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India stroll past Ireland in final round-robin match

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zaheer_khan.jpgDefending champions India were far too good for minnows Ireland in the final T20 World Cup round-robin match played at Trent Bridge, Nottingham. The Indian bowlers led by veteran Zaheer Khan (4-19) were masterful in the field, restricting the Irish to just 112 in their 18 overs, before chasing down the target comfortably with 15 balls to spare.

A slight drizzle delayed the start of play and truncated the game to 18 overs a side. India won the toss and elected to bowl first in order to help their seamers extract as much as possible from the overcast conditions. Irfan Pathan was given the new ball and he started out with a tight first over. Zaheer Khan who came on to bowl from the other end struck in his first over when he cleaned up Jeremy Bray for a duck. Zaheer was enjoying his bowling as he attempted to regain his rhythm coming from an injury lay off. He picked up two more wickets in his 2nd over with the Irish batsmen looking out of sorts against some potent pace bowling. Yusuf Pathan fielding at first slip was in action twice, once off the first ball of the over when he caught skipper William Porterfield and then off the last ball when he dived to his left to dismiss Andre Botha.

Dhoni brought on Ishant Sharma after Irfan was unable to get much help from the surface, but the tall pace bowler was greeted with a glorious cover drive for four by Gary Wilson. With just 5 overs allotted to powerplays because of the rain, the Irish were struggling a bit at 24-3. Spin was introduced straight away by Dhoni and it was Ojha who got the 4th wicket with one of the Irish heroes against Bangladesh, Kevin O'Brien dragging the ball onto his stumps. The runs were coming at a very slow pace with both Harbhajan and Ojha tightening the noose around the batsmen.

It was Harbhajan's turn now to get amongst the wickets as he got Wilson bowled to a doosra for 19. Andrew White then tried to play some innovative shots off the spinners as he reverse swept Harbhajan for a four. But still the run rate was at a dismal 5 runs per over and it got worse for Ireland when two wickets fell in Ojha's final over. John Mooney, who was playing well up till now tried to emulate his partner but his reverse attempt went straight to Yuvraj at short third man. Then, off the very next ball new-man-in Regan West was run out due to some careless running between the wickets. He did not ground his bat and was found short thanks to a freak deflection from Dhoni's pads onto the stumps.

At 73-7 at the end of 15 overs Ireland seemed dead and buried, but White took on the mantle of trying to get his side to a respectable score admirably. He spanked Pathan for a six to become the highest run scorer of the innings, and 15 runs came off that over as Cusack too helped himself to a boundary. White then hit Zaheer for a four through deep square leg, but was out caught behind, off the very next ball. Ireland were 3 runs short of the 100 mark when the final over began and it turned out to be a great over for them with 15 more runs coming off it. McCallan helped himself to a four as he reverse swept Harbhajan and then collected four leg byes later in the over . India needed 113 off 18 overs to go into the Super Eight with a perfect record, no problem for this strong Indian batting line-up.

India's new opening pair of Rohit Sharma and Gautam Gambhir began their assault on the paltry target straight from ball one. Gambhir set the tone for the innings as he spanked Boyd Rankin's first ball for a four through the covers. Sharma then opened his boundary account in the 2nd over chipping O'Brien over extra cover. Gambhir was looking in sublime touch as he carved O'Brein over the covers for a boundary and then smashed Rankin for a six over third man. India were 38-0 after 5 overs with none of the Irish bowlers posing any problems.

The duo batted sensibly bringing up their 50 run partnership in the 7th over. Singles were coming with ease and the loose balls were dispatched to the boundary just as easily. With 36 needed off the last 8 overs Gambhir decided to get the game over with quickly, but he failed to connect properly and offered a simple catch to Rankin at backward point. His innings of 37 from 31 balls, including 3 fours and a six had set the game up nicely for Dhoni and his men.

Dhoni himself walked in at number three and got his boundary chart rolling with a straight drive (more like a hammer). Sharma then decided to take charge as he stepped out to Rankin and deposited him into the stands. Dhoni (14) tried to do the same but he failed to make a good connection and was nicely held by Jeremy Bray at deep square leg, who clung on, diving forward after misjudging the flight of the ball. Just 13 were needed by this stage and India had ample time with 4 overs still to play. Sharma completed the formalities and also reached his fifty in the process, with a lofted drive over cover, reaching the milestone from 44 balls, which included 4 fours and a six. The next ball was pushed for a single and the victory achieved with ease.

A clinical performance from India, though one would have expected nothing less. There are still some question marks about their bowling in the death. RP Singh who continues to warm the bench, did brilliantly for the Deccan Chargers in the IPL, but India can't afford to drop Irfan Pathan who seems to be struggling with the ball once again. Pathan lends too much stability to the Indian line-up, and perhaps at some stage in the tournament India will need to drop the variety that fast bowler Ishant Sharma gives them and go for another left-arm seamer.

Ireland on their part have done well to qualify for the Super 8s, and their participation at this stage is all about gaining experience playing at the highest level. They will however for the time being need to be content with being the whipping boys in Group F. They take on an injury ravaged New Zealand in the first Super 8 match tomorrow. Jessie Ryder definitely misses out, while there are concerns over Daniel Vettori, James Franklin and the big hitting Ross Taylor.

India open their Super 8 account against the West Indies on Friday.

Mini Scorecard:

Ireland 112/8 (18 overs)
White 29                  Khan 4-19

India 113/2 (15.3 overs)
R Sharma 52           West 1-23

Man of the match: Zaheer Khan

Photograph Courtesy: ICC

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