India delivered the victory their nation demanded on Wednesday with a World Cup semi-final win by 29 runs over Pakistan in front of a dancing, cheering crowd in the northern Indian town of Mohali.
A fifth win in as many World Cup encounters over their neighbors and fierce foes put the co-hosts into tomorrow’s final against 1996 champions Sri Lanka in Mumbai.
The first match between the neighbors in India since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, nations that have fought three wars since independence in 1947, was attended by the prime ministers of both countries.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani shook hands with both teams, watched by millions of Indians who took the day off work to follow the match on television.
Interest was just as intense on the other side of the border.
India’s victory means the stage will be set tomorrow for Sachin Tendulkar to complete an unprecedented 100 international centuries in his home town.
Tendulkar fell 15 runs short on Wednesday despite the best efforts of the Pakistan fielders, who dropped him four times, catches which could have turned the course of the match as India eventually reached a challenging 260 for nine on a low, slow pitch.
“When we started, I was thinking of 315, 310, which was a par score according to me, but the way the ball was stopping and coming to the spinners, I thought 260, 270, would be a good fighting total,” man-of-the-match Tendulkar said at the victory presentation. “Going back to Mumbai, especially for this event, is a wonderful occasion. All I want to say is we will be focused on our job and [we will] get the job done.”
A late Misbah-ul-Haq flurry, before he was the last man out, caught on the boundary for 56, lifted Pakistan to 231 all out with a ball remaining, but Misbah’s innings was deceptive, as he accelerated only when the game was all but lost.
“They played better than us. We played some irresponsible shots,” Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi said. “I want to say sorry to our nation. We tried our level best.”
Three of the Tendulkar misses came off Afridi, who maintained his composure in a manner which demonstrated how much he has matured as the one-day captain.
Afridi showed no signs of panic when Virender Sehwag sped to 38 from 25 balls with nine boundaries in an innings which threatened to take the game away from Pakistan.
He turned to his strapping left-arm pace bowler Wahab Riaz, who responded with five for 46, including the wickets of Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, who was bowled first ball with a wonderful swinging yorker. Yuvraj had averaged 113.66 before the match.
“It was difficult to rotate the strike and in the middle overs it got very difficult because they were bowling a very good line and length,” India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said.
India coach Gary Kirsten paid tribute to the bowlers, who he said had read the conditions correctly.
“It was more and more difficult to bat as the ball got older. All credit to the bowlers, they identified that early on and they knew that taking some pace off the ball was going to make a real difference,” Kirsten said. “The World Cup final will be my last game, the players have been fantastic, they’re playing exceptional cricket at the moment. If we put it together ... we’ve got the skill to win this thing.”