SPORT

Dhawan takes India to semifinals

DHAKA, FEB. 26. India staged an incredible recovery to record 316 for five after winning the toss, with left-handed opener Shikhar Dhawan (146, 136b, 19x4, 2x6) scoring his third century of the ICC under-19 cricket World Cup and K. Dinesh Kaarthick cracking an undefeated 70 (39b, 6x4, 4x6).

However, this would not have been possible but for the matured display of Suresh Raina in that crucial phase which could well have defined victory and defeat in the must-win concluding Super-League Group I day/night contest against Sri Lanka at the Bangabandhu National Stadium here on Thursday.

It was probably his experience that saw the southpaw from Uttar Pradesh deliver (54, 88b, 4x4) in the crunch situation. This is his third season with the junior National side and he obviously knows a thing or two about pressure.

Raina, who scored a half-century in the previous game, walked in when India was staring down the barrel at 39 for three in the eighth over, with medium-pacer Manoj Chanaka scalping Robin Uthappa, Rakesh Solanki and A.T. Rayudu — the very boys who had fashioned India's victory over the Island nation in the final of the under-19 Asia Cup not too long ago.

Raina derives his inspiration from Md. Kaif, his Ranji teammate, and this was evident in his cool, composed attitude and the desire to succeed. This will be his only World Cup at the junior level and he was not going to give in without a fight.

He displayed the spirit again while bowling his off-spin when Lanka went on the rampage to take maximum advantage of the field restriction. India won the match by 56 runs and topped the group. It will meet the loser of Friday's Group II clash between England and Pakistan (both have qualified) in the semifinals.

Raina laid anchor until the 37th over, adding 134 with Dhawan, who continued on his fine form. Dhawan's first seven scoring shots were boundaries and he blazed on, decimating the attack, in the full confidence that this partner had come to stay.

Raina was finally deceived by medium pacer Farveez Mahroof's clever change of pace. But with the score at 173, he obviously left with the satisfaction that his team was well on way to a challenging score.

He certainly couldn't have foreseen the events to come — none, for that matter, could — as Dhawan and Kaarthick, who played a gritty knock in the previous match, took apart a hapless Lankan attack, not discriminating between the spinners and pacers during their 115-run fifth-wicket stand that came in 112 deliveries.

Sri Lanka picked up the gauntlet, raced to 83 in the 10th over while riding on left-handed opener Upul Tharanga's aggression. But it slowed down after his exit, bowled by left-arm medium pacer R.P. Singh. The other opener Harsha Vithana kept things going for a while before the wily left-arm spinner Praveen Gupta, who finished with three wickets, had him caught and bowled.

There was no escaping the Indian spin net thereafter. In the other Super-League Group I contest at the Fatullah Stadium, opener Xavier Marshall's century helped the West Indies defeat South Africa by 34 runs to qualify for the semifinals as the second team (owing to its loss to India) from this cluster.

Meanwhile, in the Plate championship, Australia (three wins) and Scotland (two wins) qualified for the semifinals from Group I.