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Asia’s power brokers

The presence of both India, who toppled Australia in a hum-dinger last night, and Pakistan, victors over New Zealand earlier in the day, in the final of the World Twenty20 tomorrow has provided this brash and brilliant new form of cricket with its best possible advert. Just as Asia fell in love with one-day cricket following India’s World Cup win in 1983, so the subcontinent may now embrace Twenty20. Things may never be the same again.

At a stroke, the meeting of these fierce rivals, who have not met in a final of any sort since 1999, must surely force administrators in India, who had threatened to leave their team at home, to abandon their scepticism.

They had already begun to give ground, having forged plans with other national boards for a Twenty20 champions league among domestic teams, and may now be convinced that here is simply another means of printing money – and the Indian board prints money like nobody else in the sport.

Extra spice will be given to the final in Johannesburg – which starts at 1pm, perfect for prime-time audiences in Asia – by the fact that when India and Pakistan met in the first phase of the tournament the result was a tie and had to be resolved by a bowl-out, which India won 3-0. It is the only time Pakistan have been beaten.

Against the odds, these two teams have caught the Twenty20 wave just right. In Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Robin Uthappa for India, and Shoaib Malik, Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi for Pakistan, these sides have batsmen with the energy and talent to make this format electric viewing.

Yuvraj, England’s tormentor on the same ground three days earlier, was again on the rampage last night in front of a sell-out, and almost wholly Asian, crowd in Durban. The big-hit-ting left-hander, who had missed India’s match against South Africa through injury, returned to bat at No 3 and was instrumental in his side savaging 140 from the last 12 overs as Australia’s attack was put to the sword.

After eight overs, with India 48 for two, Australia must have been pleased. But Yuvraj needed no time to play himself in before indulging in his favourite occupation, clearing the rope.

He reached 50 in 20 balls and by the time he holed out on the long-on boundary he had struck 70 from 30 balls with five sixes and five fours.

His second six, a clip off his pads against Brett Lee, sailed away over square leg for the longest six of the tournament; at 119 metres it was eight metres longer than the previous best by Misbah. Yuvraj’s stand of 84 in seven overs with Uthappa, who struck 34 from 28 balls, kicked the game into life.

From then on, it was full-on fireworks until the end. Cricket has never looked so much like baseball as the leg-side boundary was repeatedly peppered.

Even Stuart Clark, the most economical bowler in the competition before yesterday, was not spared. His final over went for 21. In all, India hit 10 sixes but this tally was to be matched by Australia on what is one of the smallest grounds in South Africa, as Stuart Broad well knows. Watching this game would have cheered him up immensely.

On such a small ground, Australia were always likely to make a strong reply but in the end India’s score of 188 for five proved too much and Australia were out of a global limited-overs tournament for the first time since England beat them in a Champions Trophy semi-final in 2004.

Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh simply bowled too well. Sreesanth’s four overs cost just 12 and he produced jaffas to bowl both Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, who improvised well in making 62 from 47 balls. Had Hayden or Andrew Symonds, who struck 43 from 26 balls, stayed the course Australia would surely have won.

With four overs to go, and 40 needed, Australia were on course but Symonds was bowled by Pathan, which exposed an Australian lower order that had had few opportunities to bat. The rustiness of Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin – only playing because of Ricky Ponting’s injury – was to prove decisive. Clarke soon fell and Haddin was unable to put enough bat on ball When Hussey, forced to bat with a runner, fell to a catch by Yuvraj in the deep in the final over, the game was up and India ran out winners by 15 runs.

Pakistan’s victory, while more comfortable, completed a remarkable revival by a team who, like India, had been a spectacular failure at the World Cup. Inspired by Umar Gul’s aggression and accuracy – he claimed three for 15 in four overs – and a whirlwind half-century from Imran Nazir, they were rarely in difficulty and won with seven balls to spare.

Before the tournament, few would have given Pakistan much chance when Shoaib Akhtar was sent home for indiscipline, but a new-look team led by Malik and Geoff Lawson, the Australian coach appointed to replace the late Bob Woolmer, have risen to every challenge with flair and intelligence.

Replying to New Zealand’s sub-par score of 143 for eight, Nazir and Mohammad Hafeez started with 60 in eight overs, and Malik and Misbah finished the job with 36 in five.

Categories: Cricket News, twenty20
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