Two wickets and a half century under pressure seeds the hosts through despite Ponting's comeback century as India set up clash with arch-rivals Pakistan.
Yuvraj is the hero again as India beat Australia to enter World Cup semi
Yuvraj Singh's primal scream once he realised that the ball had cleared the infield was echoed by the many thousands who had remained standing for more than half an hour.
Yuvraj had been on the receiving end of the most painful of them – a 125-run pasting in the 2003 final – and it was his measured unbeaten 57 that smoothed furrowed brows after a scatterbrained 10 overs where India did their best to gift Ricky Ponting a passage to the Mohali semi-final.
Instead, with Yuvraj and Suresh Raina, batting once more like the prodigy who so excited Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid, knocking off 74 in 7.1 overs, Wednesday’s game with Pakistan will surely be the most closely followed in the history of the sport.
The capacity crowd was India’s 12th man right the way through, summoning up levels of noise you would find only at La Bombanera or the old Ali Sami Yen. Yet, there were moments when the anxiety was palpable, when it appeared to transmit itself to the players, a couple of whom ran like headless chickens between wickets.
Realisation that Australia’s 12-year dominance of one-day cricket was over came with the first ball of the batting power play.
There were 22 needed from 30 balls when Raina calmly smashed Brett Lee over long-on for six. The outpouring of emotion bordered on the cathartic. In the stands in front of me, grey-haired men jumped up and down as though on a pogo-stick. Friends embraced each other. They knew.
The enormity of the task in front of India was apparent in the morning. At breakfast in the hotel, no one would talk of anything else. There was a fair bit of P envy – resigned discussions about the bowling options that Pakistan had and the paucity of India’s own.
The drive to the ground took an hour, even with my driver’s knowledge of back alleys and shortcuts. Outside the Motera, they had assembled in their thousands, sweating in tight replica shirts and with face-paint already running.
There was 40°C heat, plenty of dust and frayed tempers to go with it, but most of all there were drawn faces. The inflated axes and flags waved, but enthusiasm was tinged with trepidation. This was Australia, and no one beat Australia in the games that mattered.
The roar that followed the Indian anthem clearly lifted the players and the first four overs went to plan before Shane Watson started swatting the ball away. It took his dismissal, bowled by R Ashwin, to get the crowd going again, though Ponting and Brad Haddin set about reducing them to silence at every opportunity.
It needed Sachin Tendulkar to get them bubbling again, with a fizzing leg break that was far too good to catch the edge of Michael Clarke’s bat. But with Ponting in increasingly ominous touch – his second 50 took just 46 balls – the pinched and pale faces returned.
Zaheer Khan bowled masterfully at times with the old ball to swing the game back India’s way, but the sense of occasion seemed to affect everyone, including the geeky looking Ashwin, who gave Ponting a verbal send-off when a reverse-sweep ended his terrific innings. It was Yuvraj that restored some sanity, giving the Australia captain a well-done pat on the back as he walked away.
If anything, the volume was pumped up when India came out to bat, with every Tendulkar stroke the signal for a decibel spike.
Sourav Ganguly, one of the golden generation who missed out on the big prize, looked nervous in the commentary box, and the crowd vented their anger with chants of “Cheats, cheats” when Ponting claimed to have caught Gautam Gambhir.
Tendulkar was dropped by Jason Krejza on 47, but the stadium-wide sigh of relief did not last.
Shaun Tait, a rudderless torpedo most of the night, got him to edge one and silence descended. When Virat Kohli, Gambhir and MS Dhoni departed in quick succession, thousands were tormented by visions of past collapses.
But the left-handed pair of Yuvraj and Raina held it together as Australia unravelled, and the final denied to the subcontinent in 1987 became a semi-final reality.
Shane Watson b Ashwin 25
Brad Haddin c Raina b Yuvraj 53
Ricky Ponting c Zaheer b Ashwin 104
Michael Clarke c Zaheer b Yuvraj 8
Michael Hussey b Zaheer 3
Cameron White c and b Zaheer 12
David Hussey not out 38
Mitchell Johnson not out 6
Extras (lb2, w9) 11
Total (6 wkts, 50 overs) 260
Did not bat: J Krejza, B Lee, S Tait
Fall of wickets: 1-40 (Watson), 2-110 (Haddin), 3-140 (Clarke), 4-150 (M Hussey), 5-190 (White), 6-245 (Ponting)
Bowling: Ashwin 10-0-52-2 (1w); Zaheer 10-0-53-2; Harbhajan 10-0-50-0 (4w); Patel 7-0-44-0; Yuvraj 10-0-44-2; Tendulkar 2-0-9-0; Kohli 1-0-6-0.
Virender Sehwag c M Hussey b Watson 15
Sachin Tendulkar c Haddin b Tait 53
Gautam Gambhir run out (White/D Hussey) 50
Virat Kohli c Clarke b D Hussey 24
Yuvraj Singh not out 57
MS Dhoni c Clarke b Lee 7
Suresh Raina not out 34
Extras (lb3, w16, nb2) 21
Total (5 wkts, 47.4 overs) 261
Did not bat: Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, M Patel
Fall of wickets: 1-44 (Sehwag), 2-94 (Tendulkar), 3-143 (Kohli), 4-168 (Gambhir), 5-187 (Dhoni)
Bowling: Lee 8.4-1-45-1 (3w); Tait 7-0-52-1 (2nb, 6w); Johnson 8-0-41-0 (2w); Watson 7-0-37-1 (1w); Krejza 9-0-45-0; Clarke 3-0-19-0; D Hussey 5-0-19-1
Result: India won by five wickets
Man-of-the-match: Yuvraj Singh