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India, Pakistan banish strife with dream final

September 23, 2007 16:22 IST
India and Pakistan set up a dream final at the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa on Saturday, six months after their ignominious first-round exits from the 50-over version in West Indies.

India stunned Australia, champions in Tests and one-dayers, by 15 runs after Pakistan's six-wicket win over New Zealand in the first semi, sending passionate sub-continent cricket fans into frenzied celebration anticipating Monday's final.

Both began as rank outsiders in the inaugural World Cup for the game's shortest and newest version, but have banished their Caribbean failure as a distant nightmare.

India aim for a repeat of their 1983 World Cup win while Pakistan, the 1992 champions, have yet to beat their traditional rivals in a Cup encounter. Their meeting in the early stages ended with India winning a 'bowl out' after a tied game.

With the average age of their players below 24, India beat England, South Africa and Australia in must-win games, vindicating the selectors' decision to groom them for the future.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni was named captain after Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly opted out and the wicketkeeper is moulding the team in his mirror image, flamboyant but committed to the team's cause.

RELUCTANT ENTRANTS

The Indian board had only reluctantly agreed to send a team, having initially argued Twenty20 was new at domestic level and worried it could overshadow the lucrative one-day version in the game's commercial hub.

During the Super Eights stage of the tournament, left-handed batsman Yuvraj Singh became only the fourth batsman in elite cricket to hit six sixes in an over, against England, and also smashed 70 off 30 deliveries against Australia.

India's achievement has been especially remarkable as they do not have a coach, with the board still looking for a replacement since Australian Greg Chappell quit in April.

The Twenty20 mania sweeping through India has also been stoked by a multi-million dollar franchise league announced by the board to counter a rebel league.

Pakistan's unbeaten run, barring the bowl out against India, has finally brought smiles to the faces of their fans, in despair since their Caribbean debacle and coach Bob Woolmer's death.

Woolmer's death in Jamaica -- which occurred a day after Pakistan was eliminated from the World Cup -- was initially investigated as a murder until authorities concluded it was due to natural causes.

Former captain Inzamam-ul Haq and batting mainstay Mohammad Yousuf then caused more strife by joining the rebel Indian Twenty20 league despite the board threatening to ban them.

Controversial strike bowler Shoaib Akhtar was then sent home from South Africa after he struck team mate Mohammad Asif with a bat in a training ground bust up.

Despite the distractions, Shoaib Malik has led from the front with his batting where unfancied Misbah-ul Haq has provided depth. Shahid Afridi has shone as a spinner rather than as an explosive batsman.

Organisers are now assured of a packed stadium with millions of fans sure to watch the game on television across the globe.

Former India skipper Kapil Dev summed up the mood in the sub-continent.

"I can say in the coming days, Twenty20 will become the most exciting format of the game," he said on television.

N.Ananthanarayanan
Source:
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