Last four league games were a curious mix of lop-sided affairs, dead rubbers, unexpected losses and an apt demonstration of spin bowling. While no one expected Bangladesh to beat Pakistan, their meek submission on March 30 was a big disappointment to home fans. Same day, the India-Australia match strangely became a no-contest game at the end. On Mondays’ low-scoring matches, while Netherlands humiliated England, Sri Lanka spinner Rangana Herath wove an amazing web of spin around the New Zealand batsmen and claimed 5 wickets for 3 runs in 3.3 overs. In addition, Herath was instrumental in two run-outs.
In the first match played on Sunday afternoon, Ahmed Shehzad made the first ever T20 century for Pakistan and single-handedly propelled his team to 190/5. Shehzad’s unbeaten 111 were scored off 62 balls with 10 fours and 5 sixes. Other notable contributions came from Shoaib Malik, who scored 26 off 23 balls and Shahid Afridi, who took only 9 balls for 22 runs. Set to score 191, the Bangladeshi openers made a reasonably good start but lost their way later in the innings. Except for Shakib Al Hasan and Nasir Hossain, no other batsmen added anything to the score. In the end, Bangladesh presented to Pakistan a clean victory by 50 runs.
The second match between India and Australia turned out to be a no-contest. Having lost both their league matches, Australia’s thinnest chance for a semifinal berth rested in Pakistan losing to Bangladesh in the first match of the day. But that didn’t happen and they faced India with their fate sealed. With 3 victories, India had already secured their place in the last four. But even so, no one expected the game to become one-sided. Batting first, India made 159/7, not quite challenging for Australia’s standards. But the manner, in which the Australians batted later, made 160 as a huge target. Earlier, Indian batsmen couldn’t score freely and after half the overs were consumed and 3 wickets had fallen the rate of scoring was around 5. When Raina also fell in the 12th over, the score read 66/4. Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni couldn’t find their rhythm with Yuvraj taking 21 balls for his 13 runs. Then suddenly one saw a vintage Yuvraj, coming into his own. Together with Dhoni, Yuvraj added 84 in just 7 overs. He plundered 5 fours and 4 sixes in scoring 60 off 43 balls and with Dhoni contributing a 20-ball 24, India reached 159/7. Australian batsmen couldn’t bat in their usual fashion and were hugely troubled by spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra. Between them these two shared 6 wickets and with Jadeja getting another, the spin domination was complete. Losing wickets at regular intervals, the Australian innings folded at 86 all out in 16.2 overs and they lost by 73 runs.
The match on Monday afternoon was played between the Netherlands and England. Like in their last match against New Zealand, the Dutch proved difficult for their opponents and this time they succeeded in inflicting a humiliating defeat on England. It was the just reward for the manner in which they have gone about in the tournament. Batting first, the Dutch made only 133/5, despite a hurricane start by their openers because later Broad and Bopara slowed down scoring. Though the target of 134 was easy for England, they began with losing both openers cheaply. By the 10th over, 5 wickets had fallen for 42. And when Bresnan was the sixth man out, England were in deep trouble at 52/6 in the 12th. Though Bopara tried to steady the innings, his 18 off 20 balls was not enough. After Bopara got out at 74, the England innings folded at 88 for the addition of another 14 runs. The Dutch were marvelous in the field to help Bukhari and van Beek, both of whom took three wickets each. England lost the match by 45 runs, largely because of an inspired show by Netherlands.
The second match on Monday was another low scoring game with Sri Lanka batting first. Trent Boult got rid of both Lankan openers and also removed Sangakkara. Although Jayawardene and Thirimanne held on for a while, scoring was made difficult by New Zealand bowlers as Sri Lanka were bowled out in the 20th over for just 119. Only a miracle could help Sri Lanka with such low score. And the miracle did emerge with Rangana Herath, who was handed the ball in the fourth over. Herath didn’t get a wicket to his name on the first ball but he and Sangakkara ran Martin Guptill out. With his sixth ball in the same over, Herath accounted for Brendon McCullum, arguably the most dangerous T20 player in the world. Having been kept quiet for the first 4 deliveries he faced, McCullum stepped out to hoist Herath in the stands, only to miss the ball for Sangakkara to finish a neat stumping job. Herath dominated the batsmen with his guile and no one felt secure. Wickets kept falling like pins and in 15.3 overs, New Zealand were bowled out for 60 runs. Of these 60, Kane Williamson alone scored 42 with Guptill at 5 being the next highest scorer. New Zealand lost the match by 59 runs, an outcome no one would have guessed.
While India will take on South Africa in the second semifinal on April 4 at Mirpur, Sri Lanka’s opponent in the first semifinal on April 3 will be decided in tonight’s match between the West Indies and Pakistan.