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India's dream of a World Cup triumph at home is one step closer after their bowlers suffocated Pakistan's batsmen to set up a 29-run victory in the semi-final in Mohali. Saturday's decider will now be a battle of the hosts, and while Sri Lanka might have been surprised by the strength of India's bowling effort, they would also have taken note of a slightly lacklustre batting performance.
In the end, India's 260 for 9 was enough as their bowlers did a fine job, but had Pakistan helped themselves, the target could have been so much more gettable. Sachin Tendulkar was dropped four times in his 85, MS Dhoni was put down once and while Wahab Riaz was extremely impressive in collecting five wickets, Umar Gul had one of his most forgettable days, wilting under the pressure of a World Cup semi-final.
By contrast, India's display in the field was much more professional, and that was the difference in a match that lived up to the extreme pre-match hype. The decision to leave R Ashwin out to make room for Ashish Nehra was an odd choice on a pitch offering plenty of spin, but Nehra and his bowling colleagues built the pressure and gave Pakistan's batsmen little to attack after they made a promising start and reached 70 for 1.
The Indians didn't give away an extra until the 37th over of the innings, and the way they put together strings of dot balls and tight overs was key to their success. Munaf Patel picked up two victims and Yuvraj Singh made up for his golden duck with a pair of wickets, but the most important breakthrough came when Harbhajan Singh bowled Umar Akmal for 29.
Akmal had struck a pair of sixes off Yuvraj, driving him over the sight screen and pulling him over midwicket, and anything was possible while he was at the crease. But Dhoni called on Harbhajan to replace Yuvraj, and with the first ball of his spell he came around the wicket and pushed one across Akmal, taking the off stump when the batsman played for the spin.
Shahid Afridi also fell to Harbhajan when he skied a catch off a full toss, and the obdurate Misbah-ul-Haq was left to steer the chase. He found it difficult to lift his tempo and was the last man out, caught on the boundary for 56 in the final over, but he ate up 76 deliveries and had he shown some more intent earlier, Pakistan might have had a chance.
It was a disappointing end for Pakistan after their top order gave them hope. Mohammad Hafeez made an encouraging 43 before a string of eight dot balls from Munaf brought a brain-fade as Hafeez tried a premeditated paddle sweep from outside off stump and edged behind to Dhoni.
Soon after, the loss of Asad Shafiq brought the Mohali crowd to life, when he tried to cut a Yuvraj delivery that was much too full and straight, and the middle stump was knocked back. Shafiq had made 30 and had displayed a cool temperament until that point, but the required run-rate started to balloon, and Pakistan never recovered.
But while India have booked a place in the final, they must hope they haven't used all their good fortune too soon. Tendulkar might be the finest batsman of his generation, but today he was the luckiest, dropped on 27, 45, 70 and 81. It seemed as though he was going to bring up his 100th international century with one of his least convincing innings.
Misbah at midwicket was the first to put him down, before Younis Khan spilled a regulation chance at cover, both off the bowling of Afridi. The third opportunity came when Kamran Akmal didn't move his hands quickly enough to a thick edge, again off Afridi, and while that was a tough opportunity, a pull to Umar at mid-on from the offspin of Hafeez should have been taken.
Before he had any of those lives, Tendulkar had survived two very tight calls on 23: an lbw decision that was given out by Ian Gould but on review proved to be spinning down leg, and a near-stumping the next delivery when he just got his back foot down in time after losing his balance reaching outside off. When Tendulkar was finally taken at cover by Afridi off the bowling of Ajmal, Pakistan's relief was evident.
Soon after, a scratchy Dhoni, who was also dropped by Kamran, made the mistake of challenging Simon Taufel on an lbw decision. Dhoni had 25 when he missed a Riaz delivery that pitched just in line and was hitting the stumps. It was the second outstanding call by Taufel, who had given Virender Sehwag lbw in a similar fashion earlier, even though the left-armer's angle meant pitching outside leg was a possibility.
Riaz was the man who Afridi had to thank for keeping Pakistan in the contest after India made a strong start and reached 114 for 1 off their first 18 overs. After Gautam Gambhir was stumped wandering down the pitch against Hafeez, Riaz grabbed two wickets in two balls - Virat Kohli caught at backward point and Yuvraj bowled by a low full toss for a golden duck.
Nobody looked as fluent as the crease as Sehwag, who took 21 off Gul (0 for 69) from the third over of the innings. What looked like a 300-plus total in those early overs became 260 when Suresh Raina helped them recover from their middle-order failures.
It was enough, but India's batsmen will need to improve if they want to lift the trophy on Saturday. For now, they can dream of their first World Cup in 28 years.
Stocks finished broadly higher Tuesday after consumer confidence fell less than some analysts had feared. All 10 company groups that make up the S&P 500 index rose by more than 0.3 percent.
The S&P 500 rose 9.25 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,319.44. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 81.13 points, or 0.7 percent, to 12,279.01. The Nasdaq composite rose 26.21, or 1 percent, to 2,756.89.
Rising gas prices helped drag down consumer confidence in March. The Conference Board said its confidence index dropped to 63.4 from 72 in February.
The fall comes after five straight months of gains, but some economists had expected the decline to be even worse. Goldman Sachs had forecast a drop to 60, believing that high gas prices would pinch spending. The University of Michigan confidence survey also took a steep fall last week.
The Conference Board survey also had a surprising result: the index measuring consumers' assessment of current conditions gained from February, putting it at the highest level since November 2008.
"Now, you can't say things are going worse than they were a month ago," said Thomas Simons, money market economist at Jefferies & Co.
Home Depot Inc. rose 2.9 percent, the most of the 30 companies in the Dow Jones industrial average. The retailer said it would buy $1 billion of its own stock with cash from selling bonds.
Stocks started lower after a report showed that home prices fell in 19 of the 20 large U.S. cities tracked by the S&P/Case-Shiller index. Washington was the only city in which prices rose. Prices have fallen 3 percent overall in the past year.
Lennar Corp. fell 3.4 percent on news that housing prices dropped in most major cities even after the homebuilder reported a surprise profit for the latest quarter. Other homebuilders fell, too. KB Home dropped 1.9 percent. Toll Brothers slipped 0.2 percent.
General Electric Co. rose 0.6 percent after announcing plans to buy 90 percent of Converteam, a France-based electrical equipment maker.
Two stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume came to 3.6 billion shares
By DAVID K. RANDALL, FRANCESCA LEVY
NEW YORK (AP) - Stocks edged higher to start the week after economic reports suggested that the recovery is continuing.
The Commerce Department said consumer spending rose at its fastest pace in four months in February. The National Association of Realtors said more Americans signed contracts to buy homes in February than economists were expecting. Sales rose in every region but the Northeast, but remained below what is considered a healthy level.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 20 points, or 0.2 percent, to 12,241 in midday trading Monday. The broader S&P 500 index rose 2, or 0.1 percent, to 1,315. The Nasdaq composite inched up 2, or 0.1 percent, to 2,745.
"We are continuing to grind higher because all of the economic data that was stronger than expected," said John Brady, a senior vice president at MF Global. "There was no more bad news out of the Middle East over the weekend and the situation in Libya looks like it's stabilizing."
In Libya, rebels gained ground against longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi after international airstrikes against Gadhafi's forces. Oil prices fell as Libyan rebels retook control of key port towns Ras Lanouf and Brega and said they would resume exporting crude within weeks.
In the U.S., Eastman Kodak Co. jumped nearly 11 percent after the U.S. Trade Commission said it will review a judge's finding in a patent dispute with Apple Inc. and Research in Motion Ltd. A favorable ruling could pave the way for Kodak to reap higher fees.
Nvidia Corp. gained 4.4 percent to lead the 500 stocks in the S&P index after the company was upgraded by analysts. Netflix Inc. rose 3.3 percent after announcing a deal with Paramount to stream more movies to subscribers in Canada.
Retailer Harry & David said it would file for bankruptcy reorganization after battling weak revenue and hefty debt. The seller of fruit baskets and snack gifts has struggled as consumers cut down on discretionary spending.
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