One billion cheers as Sachin gets dream finale

INDIA’S favourite cricketing son Sachin Tendulkar will play a World Cup final in his home town of Mumbai after helping his country beat Pakistan by 29 runs in Mohali.

Tendulkar was named man-of-the-match for his top score of 85 in India’s 260 for nine, a total they duly defended in yesterday’s semi-final that saw the usually teeming streets of the sub-continent virtually empty as tens of millions took the afternoon off to watch the game on TV, joining an estimated global audience of one billion.

The ‘Little Master’ can now look forward to taking on Sri Lanka at the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday as India set their sights on at last following up their maiden World Cup win 28 years ago.

“Going back to Mumbai for this event is a wonderful occasion,” said Tendulkar, still one short of becoming the first man to make 100 international hundreds. He may yet be reserving that feat for the grandest stage, but is more concerned that India seal the title on behalf of their cricket-mad citizens.

“I just hope we can get the job done,” he added.

Batting first, India were indebted not just to Tendulkar but the early striking of his opening partner Virender Sehwag and a fine all-round display in the field.

“I thought the way we bowled was brilliant and the way we fielded was absolutely fabulous,” Tendulkar said.

“We just had to make sure we got a fighting total.

“When we started I was thinking 310-315, but the way the ball was stopping I thought 260-270 was a decent total.”

Tendulkar’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was hoping for a few extra runs to defend but is confident his team are approaching their best form when they need it most.

“We would have loved to score 20 or 30 runs more after that fantastic start,” he said.

“Before the start of the tournament we said it is very important to peak at the right time, so I think we’re ready for the final.”

Pakistan briefly appeared on course to upset the odds after Mohammad Hafeez eased their run chase off to a promising start.

But his opening partner Kamran Akmal flashed a square-drive at Zaheer Khan into the hands of Yuvraj Singh at point, and then Hafeez himself spoiled his own good work with a poorly-conceived and executed shot which resulted in his caught-behind departure to Munaf Patel for 43.

Asad Shafiq was bowled middle-stump trying to cut Yuvraj, and Younus Khan holed out off the slow left-armer at cover.

Umar Akmal temporarily raised Pakistan hopes again. But once Harbhajan Singh did him for pace with a flatter delivery from round the wicket, only something exceptional from big-hitters Abdul Razzaq and Shahid Afridi could put the match back in the balance — and it did not happen.

Harbhajan was one of five frontline India bowlers to end up with two wickets, and was delighted at how well they held their nerve.

“It was like a final, because if India and Pakistan are playing the pressure is double,” said the off-spinner.

A capacity crowd revelled in the home victory, and Harbhajan added: “Thanks to everyone for supporting us and giving us the blessing to win this important game.

“I’m really excited to be going to Mumbai for the final.”

Pakistan captain Afridi was notably gracious in defeat, after a high-profile contest in which partisan feelings inevitably ran high.

“I want to congratulate the Indian cricket team and all the Indian nation for this great victory and wish them well for the final,” he said.

“We have played really well in this whole tournament, and the boys did a great job. I am very proud to be captain of these guys.”

Afridi reserved praise for Wahab Riaz, whose maiden five-wicket haul gave Pakistan a chance of an upset.

“He really bowled well, but we missed some opportunities — and in the end, they played better than us,” he added. “We didn’t build partnerships and played some irresponsible shots.

“Sorry to our nation. We tried our level best.”

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