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How MS Dhoni's 'sad face' influenced the 2011 India vs Australia World Cup match

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For the neutral cricket fans, any India-Australia One Day match is always a highly anticipated battle of two bitter rivals who would go to the very extreme to have the last laugh. 

After the Kangaroos dominated the 50-over format against the Indian cricket team for the large part of the 2000s, India have made a comeback against the Aussies in the last decade or so in white-ball cricket.

Among the many ODIs that have left a mark in recent memory, Indian fans will fondly remember the India-Australia One Day match in the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup quarter-final, which MS Dhoni and Co. had won on their home turf.

The build-up to this blockbuster India vs Australia 2011 World Cup clash was nothing short of extraordinary. Under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, hosts India were looking to end their 28-year long title drought on ICC’s biggest stage. For that, they needed to go through the defending World Cup champions Australia, who had won the tournament three times on the trot.

The stage was Ahmedabad’s Motera Stadium with every Indian fan marking March 24, 2011, on their calendar. Prior to this encounter, India had never squared off against Australia in the knockout stages of the World Cup.

On the other hand, the Ricky Ponting-led Australian cricket team was looking to extend their unbeaten run in the quadrennial tournament, with their run of titles stretching back to 1999. 

In the previous nine India-Australia One Day matches in the World Cup, the Aussies had completely dominated the Indians, having won seven matches and losing only two of them. The 2011 World Cup quarter-final couldn’t have been any more tense.

Ton-up for captain Ricky Ponting

After Ricky Ponting won the toss and decided to bat first on a dry pitch, they got a strong start from Shane Watson and Brad Haddin. They had forged a 40-run opening wicket partnership before Ravichandran Ashwin dismissed Watson.

Captain Ponting joined Haddin in the middle and forged a 70-run partnership before Yuvraj Singh scalped two crucial wickets to reduce Australia to 140/3. Though veteran Indian pacer Zaheer Khan claimed two more wickets to put the visitors on the backfoot, Ricky Ponting’s brilliant ton (104) meant that Australia managed to post a competitive total of 260/6.

Image courtesy: AFP / Indranil Mukherjee

India started strongly as well, thanks to their opening duo of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, who put an opening stand of 44 runs in the first eight overs before Sehwag was scalped by Watson in the ninth over. Gautam Gambhir (50) and Tendulkar (53) then stitched a timely 50-run partnership to put India in good stead. 

However, just when India looked on track, the visitors bounced back by picking up crucial wickets of Tendulkar, Gambhir, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, with India struggling at 187/5.

Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina repay Tendulkar’s faith

But, there was no dearth of match-winners in India’s 2011 World Cup team and despite the sudden batting collapse, Yuvraj Singh (57) and Suresh Raina (34) stitched a match-winning 74-run stand for the sixth wicket to lead India to an exciting semi-final encounter against Pakistan.

Indian talisman Yuvraj Singh was adjudged the player of the match for his match-winning fifty and two important breakthroughs with the ball.

“It's for moments like these that I play cricket,” Yuvraj Singh had said during the post-match press conference.

“When MS Dhoni got out, I knew we still had Raina to come and thought if we added 40 odd runs it would be good... (Ricky) Ponting batted outstandingly but we chased well,” Yuvraj Singh added.

India’s other match-winner, Suresh Raina had revealed how a disappointed MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar’s encouragement had spurred him to go the distance.

"Virender Sehwag was sitting on my right and Sachin Tendulkar on the left. Tendulkar tapped me and said ‘You will win the match for India today’,” Raina had recalled.

"As I was walking I saw MS Dhoni's sad face while walking back to the pavilion. At that very moment, I decided I would not miss this chance and will win the match at any cost," the southpaw added.

The result left Australia “devastated” after they went down despite winning the toss on a pitch that was expected to assist the spinners later on.

More importantly, it had ended Australia’s stronghold on the World Cup ending what had been a remarkable streak.

MS Dhoni’s men, meanwhile, would go on to end their 28-year drought by clinching the 2011 World Cup at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai a few days later.

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