The colourful crowd sang and danced, the beating of the drums grew louder and fireworks lit the night sky. And in an atmosphere surcharged with emotions, India displayed heart, passion and end-game skills to overcome Pakistan by 29 runs in the second semifinal of the ICC World Cup at the PCA Stadium here on Wednesday.
India will meet Sri Lanka in the final at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium on Saturday. Importantly, the team displayed tactical flexibility by fielding three seamers; Mahendra Singh Dhoni's ploy worked.
India's bowling was tight and the fielders were on the ball. Pursuing 261, Pakistan was dismissed for 231 in the final over.
Misbah-ul-Haq (56) changed gears to lead a revival of sorts for his side but it was too little too late. Sachin Tendulkar was adjudged Man of the Match for a hard-earned 85. For Pakistan, young left-arm paceman Wahab Riaz bowled with fire and precision to scalp five.
The Indian think-tank gambled by leaving out off-spinner R. Ashwin; Ashish Nehra came in as the third seamer.
An early breakthrough eluded the host. Kamran Akmal and Mohammed Hafeez, with crisp strokeplay, provided a steady start before Akmal fell to a set-piece.
Akmal fancies his chances square of the wicket and the canny Zaheer Khan prised him out on the stroke with a slower delivery.
Meanwhile, Hafeez was in his element, flashing Nehra through covers and whipping the paceman for boundaries.
The impressive Munaf Patel — he got the ball to seam around from back-of-a-length — took out Hafeez when the batsman nicked an audacious paddle sweep.
Dhoni rung in the changes. Harbhajan Singh, bowling a more attacking line and getting the ball to spin in from outside the off-stump, combined effectively with Yuvraj Singh.
Left-armer Yuvraj deceived the compact Asad Shafiq who attempted a cut but the saw the ball coming in with the arm to disturb woodwork.
Soon Yuvraj lured the accomplished Younis Khan for a front-footed drive; the batsman's mistimed off-drive was splendidly pouched by a leaping Suresh Raina.
At 106 for four after 26 overs, Pakistan was under pressure. The asking rate climbed. Dhoni kept Yuvraj going from one end, gave Harbhajan a break and shuffled Munaf and Nehra from the other; both the pacemen were frugal.
The talented Umar Akmal attempted to break the shackles. He rocked back to club Yuvraj over mid-wicket for the maximum.
The Indians struck back.
Harbhajan Singh, operating from round the wicket, nailed Umar with a delivery that fizzed off the pitch and straightened a tad. The batsman's ploy to play back was fatal.
Misbah-ul-Haq got bogged down from one end and Munaf castled the dangerous Abdul Razzaq with his change of pace and leg-cut.
Skipper Shahid Afridi resisted briefly before lobbing a catch off a Harbhajan full toss.
Earlier, the calm Raina (36 not out), relying on calculated aggression, guided the tail through the batting Power Play taken in the 45th over. Collecting 43 crucial runs for the loss of a wicket, India did not capitulate this time around.
Wahab Riaz, picked over the experienced Shoaib Akhtar, operated with verve after Dhoni elected to bat. The 25-year-old strongly built left-arm paceman from Lahore angled the ball teasingly away from the right-hander from over-the-wicket and mixed these deliveries with the ones that straightened.
Expecting the ball to seam away, the Indian batsmen often played down the wrong line.
To his credit, Riaz maintained his intensity through varying stages of the innings with spells of 3-0-10-1, 3-0-17-2, 2-0-8-1, and 2-0-11-1.
The impressive paceman nailed a rampant Sehwag and a dogged Dhoni — both played across — with back-of-a-length deliveries that held their course.
Unable to read the length, Virat Kohli was taken at backward point. And Riaz flummoxed the in-form Yuvraj Singh, first ball, with a full delivery that swerved into the left-hander to rattle the timber. The crowd was shell-shocked.
Pakistan needed Riaz to excel on an afternoon when spearhead Umar Gul, going through the horrors, sprayed the ball around.
Gul was taken to the cleaners by Sehwag who flicked, punched and drove the paceman for five scintillating boundaries in the third over of the innings.
The Indian innings revolved around Tendulkar's 115-ball 85. The maestro was majestic when he eased paceman Abdul Razzaq past covers and square-drove Riaz but was fortunate against the spinners.
In fact, Tendulkar led a charmed existence. He was reprieved on 27, 45, 70 and 81; thrice between cover and mid-wicket and once behind the stumps.
Afridi, who deceived Tendulkar in the air, suffered on three occasions while Hafeez was let down once.
Misbah, Younis, 'keeper Kamran Akmal and Umar Akmal were the erring fielders.
This was an innings when Tendulkar searched for rhythm; he was adjudged leg-before to off-spinner Saeed Ajmal on 24 but the review showed the ball missing leg-stump.
Pakistan fought hard. Hafeez was tidy with his off-spin, the crafty Afridi was luckless and Ajmal got the ball to straighten without appreciable change in his action.
Ajmal eventually consumed Tendulkar when he miscued a stroke through the off-side field.
But then, Pakistan was let down by shoddy catching and ordinary ground-fielding.
India: V. Sehwag lbw b Riaz 38 (25b, 9x4), S. Tendulkar c Afridi b Ajmal 85 (115b, 11x4), G. Gambhir st. K. Akmal b Hafeez 27 (32b, 2x4), V. Kohli c U Akmal b Riaz 9 (21b), Yuvraj b Riaz 0 (1b), M.S. Dhoni lbw b Riaz 25 (42b, 2x4), Suresh Raina (not out) 36 (39b, 3x4), Harbhajan st. K. Akmal b Ajmal 12 (15b, 2x4), Zaheer c K. Akmal b Riaz 9 (10b, 1x4), A. Nehra (run out) 1 (2b), Munaf (not out) 0; Extras (lb-8, w-8, nb-2): 18; Total (for nine wkts. in 50 overs): 260.
Fall of wickets: 1-48 (Sehwag), 2-116 (Gambhir), 3-141 (Kohli), 4-141 (Yuvraj), 5-187 (Tendulkar), 6-205 (Dhoni), 7-236 (Harbhajan), 8-256 (Zaheer), 9-258 (Nehra).
Pakistan bowling: Gul 8-0-69-0, Razzaq 2-0-14-0, Riaz 10-0-46-5, Ajmal 10-0-44-2, Afridi 10-0-45-0, Hafeez 10-0-34-1.
Pakistan: K. Akmal c Yuvraj b Zaheer 19 (21b, 3x4), M. Hafeez c Dhoni b Munaf 43 (59b, 7x4), A. Shafiq b Yuvraj 30 (39b, 2x4), Younis c Raina b Yuvraj 13 (32b), Misbah c Kohli b Zaheer 56 (76b, 5x4 1x6), U. Akmal b Harbhajan 29 (24b, 1x4, 2x6), A. Razzaq b Munaf 3 (9b), S. Afridi c Sehwag b Harbhajan 19 (17b, 1x4), W. Riaz c Tendulkar b Nehra 8 (14b, 1x4), U. Gul lbw b Nehra 2 (3b). S. Ajmal (not out) 1 (5b); Extras (w-8): 8; Total (in 49.5 overs): 231.
Fall of wickets: 1-44 (K. Akmal), 2-70 (Hafeez), 3-103 (Shafiq), 4-106 (Younis), 5-142 (U. Akmal), 6-150 (Razzaq), 7-184 (Afridi), 8-199 (Riaz), 9-208 (Gul).
India bowling: Zaheer 9.5-0-58-2, Nehra 10-0-33-2, Munaf 10-1-40-2, Harbhajan 10-0-43-2, Yuvraj 10-1-57-2.
Man of the match: Sachin Tendulkar (India).