Bangalore: India and Pakistan set up a mouth-watering final at the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa on Saturday, six months after their ignominious first-round exits from the 50-over version in West Indies.
India stunned world beaters Aussies - champions in Tests and one-dayers - by 15 runs after Pak registered a six-wicket win over Kiwis in the first semi-final, sending passionate sub-continent cricket fans into frenzied celebration anticipating Monday's final.
Both the greenhorns in the nascent version of the sport began as rank outsiders in the inaugural World Cup for the game's shortest and newest version, but have banished their Caribbean failure as a distant nightmare.
India aim for a repeat of their 1983 World Cup win while Pakistan, the 1992 champions, have yet to beat their traditional rivals on big stage. Their meeting in the early round ended with India winning a 'bowl out' after a tied game.
New-look Indian side with the average age of their players below 24 beat England, South Africa and Australia in crunch games, vindicating the selectors' decision to groom them for the future.
Yuvi spurred India: Left-handed batsman Yuvraj Singh opened up a Pandora box for India with his lusty hitting. He became only the fourth batsman in elite cricket to hit six sixes in an over bowled by Stuart Broad, against England, and also smashed fastest fifty (50 off 12 balls) ever in any format of the sport. He struck 70 off 30 deliveries against Aussie in semis'. Infact it was Yuvi's individual brilliance that spurred India. We haven't seen a batsman meddling the ball as cleanly and hitting it as hard as Yuvi. Yuvi deposited the first ball he faced right in the stands over long-leg boundary - call it arrogance or confidence.
Mumbai dasher Rohit Sharma held up tottering India innings and struck a classy half-century against South Africa. He earned man-of-the-match award for his efforts in his debut match.
Openers Sehwag and Gambhir have consistently given India a good start. Delhi-duo has played sensibly throughout. Both having played for Delhi in domestic circuit know each other well. Interestingly it was Gambhir who went after shots easing off pressure on comeback man Sehwag. Their running between the wickets have been awesome scampering for quick singles and twos and scoring odd bouandries. Their 138-run partnership against the England set the tone.
Middle-order studded with Uthappa, Sharma, Yuvraj and Dhoni continued the good work setting huge targets for opponents.
Sreesanth bowled a most economical over in the tournament so far. His final analysis in the semis' against Aussies read 4-1-12-2. His partner RP has matured as a new ball bowler. Sree and RP knows the importance of new seaming ball and never have let India their team down in the ensuing event. And were ably supported by military medium pacers Pathan and Joginder. Harbhajan it seems his stint with Surrey in English County C'ship had helped him regain his lost touch. He picked a handful of wickets with top-spinners and wrong 'un. He has made batsmen think by mixing up the deliveries in good measure.
And above all a young captain improving in good measure with every passing game. Dhoni was named captain after the biggies Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly opted out and the wicketkeeper is moulding the team in his mirror image, flamboyant but committed to the team's cause.
The best thing about this new-look India is team spirit. Everyone is enjoying - not just their own performance - but also everyone else's. Mind you there's no superstar in the team.
India's achievement has been especially remarkable as they do not have a coach, with the board still looking for a replacement since Australian Greg Chappell quit in April.
Pak is no Dodo: Pakistan's unbeaten run, barring the bowl out against India, has finally brought smiles to the face of their fans, in despair since their Caribbean debacle and coach Bob Woolmer's death.
Woolmer's death in Jamaica - which occurred a day after Pakistan was eliminated from the World Cup -- was initially investigated as a murder until authorities concluded it was due to natural causes.
Former captain Inzamam-ul Haq and batting mainstay Mohammad Yousuf then caused more strife by joining the rebel Indian Twenty20 league despite the board threatening to ban them.
Controversial strike bowler Shoaib Akhtar was then sent home from South Africa after he struck team mate Mohammad Asif with a bat in a training ground bust up.
Despite the distractions, Shoaib Malik has led from the front with his batting where unfancied Misbah-ul Haq is a revelation. Imran Nazir, Mohammad Hafeez, veteran Younis and Shahid Afridi add depth to Pak batting. Afridi, who is yet to deliver with the willow has shone as a spinner.
But it is their bowling attack which is the trum card with seamers Mohammad Asif, Gul and debutant Sohail Tanvir and slow-ball bowlers Afridi who tops the bowling chart in the tourney, Mohd Hafeez, Malik and rookie left-arm spinner Fawad Alam in their ranks Pak can balance their inconsistancy in batting with the quality attack.
There is not much too choose between the two young teams who played a top quality cricket right thro' tournament. However it is the team that keeps its nerves in a big-pressure match like the final is going to win.