Victory fails to save India's loss of face

Colombo: Mohammed Hafeez and the players were undecided on whether they would stay at the ground once victory was achieved against Australia. Finally, they decided to go back to the Cinnamon Grand.

The wry smile on the Pakistan captain's face wasn't to be missed though. He was aware that unless South Africa ' who crashed out earlier in the day once Pakistan won ' made a mess of the situation, they were assured of a place in the semi-finals.

A few hours later, the script unfolded in a much similar fashion at the Premadasa. India failed to restrict South Africa within the make-or-break score of 121, thereby helping Pakistan cruise into the semi-final. There was some consolation, though, as the Indians won by a run after the Proteas ended their innings on 151.

Another campaign by Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men have ended on a disastrous note.

That 121 was too little a 'defendable score' was evident from the start. What remained baffling was India's decision to go in with a lone specialist spinner in Ravichandran Ashwin. That the wicket was aiding spin was evident when Pakistan ran through Australia with the spinners bowling 18 of their 20 overs.

Still Dhoni relied on the part-timers when a Harbhjan Singh could have made a difference. That the South Africans struggle against quality spinners in these conditions is not unknown, but still Dhoni relied on a three- pronged pace attack.

Equally strange was Dhoni's decision to bring on Ashwin in the 11th over. With the batsmen finding the going tough against Yuvraj Singh, getting the off-spinner to the attack early could have made a difference.

The Indians knew that it wouldn't be an easy task. Having been stuck at -0.452 before the start, they would have to get their net run-rate ahead of Pakistan's +0.273.

In the end, Pakistan's superior net run-rate saw them through. By the close, India had slightly improved their position to �0.274.

With Hafeez's team's fate depending on the outcome of the India-South Africa match, it turned out to be more of an India-Pakistan clash in the stands. The Pakistani supporters, waving their flags, were supporting the South Africans as they went about their chase.

South Africa finally got their combination right as Muttiah Muralidharan would make us believe. Faf du Plessis was back in the playing XI, though it came a bit too late in the day.

Faf played a big hand in providing the initial impetus after the top-order fumbled again. Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and De Villiers' poor form in this tournament has been a big reason behind their disastrous performance in the Super Eights.

Faff's 65 off 38 balls was not enough as the South Africans lost quick wickets, including two in the final over from Lakshmipathy Balaji, to surrender tamely.

The Indians would have loved to chase keeping in mind the equation, but that was not to be as De Villiers put India in. South Africa, who have had a few of their campaigns in ICC events ending cruelly in the past, this time landed the knockout blow on India.

The Indian innings huffed and puffed before Suresh Raina and Dhoni provided the momentum in the final four overs.

Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag started off in a flash with nine and eight runs coming off the first two overs. Then Dale Steyn crippled their flamboyance with a maiden and the runs dried up thereafter. The regular fall of wickets also led to the slump in run-making.

Gambhir was bowled off the inside edge and Virat Kohli was left cramped for space against a rising delivery before nicking to the wicketkeeper in consecutive overs.

Kohli's dismissal upset the innings once he was a victim of the disconcerting length. He's crucial to their hopes, as Gary Kirsten would love to call it the "X-factor".

In the next over, Sehwag lifted Robin Peterson for a six and in his penchant to repeat the shot was bowled the next delivery. At 36 for three in the sixth over, India's challenge looked to have ended.

That they managed to reach 152 for six was thanks to Raina's 45 off 34 balls and Yuvraj Singh's 21 off 15 in the middle-overs. Dhoni provided the finishing touches with his unorthodox attack, remaining unbeaten on 23 off 13 balls.

That 40 runs came off the Raina-Dhoni partnership was mainly due to the lefthander's silken drives and the captain's brute power that left even Dale Steyn dazed. Had the batsmen shown such urgency earlier, it would have helped them set a bigger target and could have made a difference to the outcome.