Title favourites India tonight stormed into the semifinals of the ICC T20 World Cup 2016 cricket tournament with a sensational six-wicket victory over Australia in their final group match, relying on Virat Kohli’s batting heroics. After restricting Australia to 160 for 6, Kohli (82 not out) provided the spark with a superlative display of batting to help India overhaul the target with five balls to spare in a thrilling showdown at the I S Bindra Stadium.
India turned the game on its head in the last four overs with the flamboyant Kohli unleashing a flurry of shots to take the game away from the Australians much to the delight of the capacity home crowd. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (18 not out) hit the winning runs—a four—to the wild celebration at the Indian camp as well among the vociferous crowd.
India, who finished second in Super 10 Group 2, will take on the West Indies in the second semifinals in Mumbai on March 31. New Zealand take on England in the first semifinals on March 30 in New Delhi. Let down by a poor start, India were left to get 39 in the last three overs but Kohli got the team home to 162 for four in 19.1 overs. His 82 not out came from 51 balls, studded with nine fours and two sixes. (Also read. Other batsmen need to step up, says cautious Dhoni)
The 18th over bowled by James Faulkner went for 19 runs and that swung the game in the home team’s favour. The Indians lost openers Shikhar Dhawan (13) and Rohit Sharma (12), who both had not done much in the previous matches, early in the chase. Dhawan top-edged a rising Josh Hazlewood delivery to short fine-leg before Rohit walked out of the crease to find his stumps disturbed off a slower ball by Shane Watson, leaving India at 37 for two in 5.5 overs.
All hopes were now pinned on premier batsman Kohli, who has made it habit of chasing down targets in testing times. He started with a delectable flick and a square drive off Hazlewood, raising hopes of another successful chase through him. He stood strong as Suresh Raina (10) succumbed to the short-ball again, bringing in home hero Yuvraj Singh (21) at 49 for three.
The packed crowd at the stadium wore a nervous look when Yuvraj injured his left leg and a physio had to be called for him to treat the pain. The innings required a push with the hosts reaching 65 in 10 overs, needing 96 off the last 60 balls for a famous win. Kohli found the much needed hit when he lofted Maxwell over long off for a maximum. Yuvraj followed his partner by sending leggie Adam Zampa’s full toss for a six between long on and deep midwicket. (Also read. PM Narendra Modi hails India's triumph over Australia)
The left-hander Yuvraj got the big shot but he was clearly struggling and was caught at extra cover to make way for Dhoni in the middle with the team needing 59 off the last 30 balls. In the end, it proved to just another day in the office for Kohli and Dhoni. Earlier, the Indian bowlers led by Hardik Pandya and Ashish Nehra made a remarkable recovery after leaking runs in the initial overs as they restricted Australia to 160 for 6 in the virtual knock-out match.
Australia were cruising at 53 for no loss at the end of the fourth over with Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin conceding 17 and 22 in second and fourth overs respectively but the home bowlers bounced back in the later overs to restrict the Aussies to a competitive total. For Australia, Aaron Finch (43) and Glenn Maxwell (31) were the main contributors as Australia lost the momentum in the later overs. Aaron Finch made 43 off 34 balls at the top while Glenn Maxwell scored 31 of 28. Hardik Pandya grabbed two wickets for 36 runs while
Ashish Nehra took one wicket for 20 runs in his four overs. With a semifinal berth at stake for both teams, the atmosphere at the stadium was electric as fans flocked to stadium hours before match time. The in-form Usman Khawaja set the tone for the Australia innings by pulling Nehra for four on the very first ball of the match. The seasoned Indian came back well, beating Khawaja twice in the same over. (Also read. India eves' pathetic ICC T20 World Cup 2016 campaign over after 3rd defeat)
The Australians had their aggressive intent clear, so much so that even first change Ashwin was not spared. Finch deposited the star Indian spinner for two consecutive sixes over long on and under pressure, his next ball was wide down the leg side for five runs. Ashwin’s 22-run over meant Australia had raced to 53 for no loss in four overs.
India badly needed a breakthrough to stop the free flow of runs and it was provided by Nehra, who had the dangerous Khawaja caught behind off a fuller ball. Ashwin, brought back in the eighth over, bounced back from a forgettable first over by having David Warner stumped to make it 73 for two. That wicket was Ashwin’s 50th in the format, making him the first Indian to do so.
Steven Smith (2) then joined Finch in the middle but much to the delight of a vociferous crowd, he lasted only six balls two days after smashing an unbeaten 61 against Pakistan at the same venue. Yuvraj Singh, bowling his first ball of the tournament, induced a faint edge of Smith’s bat as he attempted a hard slash on a flatter one. (Also read. Pakistan team arrives to hostile reception in Lahore and Karachi)
India had pulled things back considerably after leaking runs early on. Soon after, it became 100 for four in 13 overs with the fall of Finch. The odd ball keeping low also made life tougher for the batsmen. It was over to Shane Watson (18 not out) and Maxwell to provide the late flourish. Maxwell did his bit with a breezy knock which included a switch hit that went for six over cover off a full toss from Ravindra Jadeja.
Big hitters are aplenty in the Australian batting line-up and in came James Faulkner (10) to support Watson. But the pitch getting slower and disciplined bowling by the Indians did not allow the powerful pair to free their arms. Nehra once again was the most economical bowler for the home team. The Australians, however, ended the innings in style courtesy Peter Nevill (10 not out), who smashed a six and four in the two balls he faced.