A Man of the Match-winning all-round performance by Yuvraj Singh ensured that Ireland did not for the second straight game pull off an upset.
Yuvraj Singh approaches the bowling crease with all the ponderous inelegance of that Revital ad.
What he brings, especially on tracks offering some assistance, is a foxy savvy - a wicket to wicket line from close to the stumps coupled with variations in flight, length, point of release, extent of turn and, when he chooses to bang one into the deck, bounce.
That combination set up a five-for, and saved India's blushes in a game where the two regular spinners went wicket-less and Ireland raised visions of compiling a competitive score despite an inspired Zaheer Khan's twin strikes right upfront.
It's not often you get to say this, but it was actually an inspired bit of fielding that got the side back into the game. Coming together at a potentially disastrous 9/2, Niall O'Brien and skipper William Porterfield had, with initial circumspection and, once they figured out how easy singles were against this Indian fielding side, with growing assurance, added 113 for the third wicket off 146 balls.
With 23 overs left and a few fierce hitters in the hut, Ireland could anticipate a 250-or-so score that could have been challenging under lights on a Chinnaswamy Stadium track that had been so assiduously deprived of water and baked in the heat as to turn from a flat batting track to a turner.
Porterfield pushed Harbhajan towards the covers and set off for the single he had come to expect as his due whenever ball met bat and the ball went into the outfield. Virat Kohli came racing around, picked up and threw. The throw was off - wide, and in front of the stumps, but MS Dhoni anticipated superbly, grabbed the ball and broke the stumps to catch Niall O'Brien short on the run.
That pried the innings open; Yuvraj did the rest, and Ireland lost its last 7 wickets for just 75 runs. His wickets were as varied as his bowling: Andrew White got a flighted, looping delivery that pitched outside off and turned sharply away to find the edge to the keeper; the dangerous Kevin O'Brien was foxed by a straighter one with just enough extra pace to take him by surprise and induce a soft push back to the bowler; Porterfield got the worst ball Yuvraj bowled on the day, a short offering turning wider still that the Ireland skipper, his concentration not back after the drinks break, slapped straight to Harbhajan Singh at cover; John Mooney was foxed by one that looped, landed outside off, and darted in to nail the pad in front of off; Alex Cusack got one just back of length that straightened and hurried on to nail the pad and, for once, umpire Rod Tucker of Australia ignored the 2.5 meter prescription and ruled the batsman out after the review process to give Yuvraj his five-for.
If Yuvraj was about variety and guile, the two "regular" Indian spinners were diametrically opposite. Harbhajan had a track that turned and bounced; he had support in the form of two slips; but for the most part he stayed around the wicket to the left handers and speared it in on length, often missing his line and drifting onto the pads, and never looking likely to bag a wicket (World Cup combined analysis: 29-1-128-2).
If Harbhajan could at the least boast of economy, Piyush Chawla didn't even have that fig leaf. He came on in the 18th over and gave away 15, including 5 no balls with an offering where he overstepped, lost his radar, and beat everyone including the fine leg fielder. His first spell was 3-0-24-0; he was brought back in the 24th over and took all of 10 balls to complete the 'over' - his stint today was a nightmare endured with eyes wide open. At first he found bite and turn, but no control of line; he compensated by cutting out the leg breaks and bowling an uninterrupted series of googlies the opposition picked off with ease (World Cup thus far: 25-0-159-2).
Against that backdrop, Yuvraj's performance with the ball deserves all the kudos going, but the role of Zaheer Khan in setting it up merits mention. Having thumped England, Ireland would have come into this game with adrenalin pumping and, who knows, a halfway decent start could have inspired them to send India on a leather hunt.
Zaheer nipped that prospect in the bud with an opening spell to die for. Having gotten a feel for the conditions with three tight deliveries, he stepped up his pace, angled one across Paul Sterling on length, and zipped it back off the track, through the gap and onto the stumps.
The next over was even better. Twice, he hit the perfect length outside Ed Joyce's off stump and darted the ball away off the seam, leaving the batsman flummoxed. He then hit the exact same length with his third, but made the ball dart back the other way. Joyce, by then hypnotized into playing for the one leaving him, was left groping down the wrong line as the ball took the inside edge through to Dhoni, to reduce Ireland to 9/2 and ensure that the batting side was deflated before it could work up a good head of steam. (Zaheer in the Cup thus far: 29-1-128-8)
Chasing 207 would, you reckon, be a doddle for India's batting line up - its strength and depth was what MS Dhoni had talked up in the pre-match press conference when expressing his preference to chase.
In actual fact, India huffed, and puffed, to make the running against an Ireland attack made to look far sharper than it really was by incredibly committed ground fielding and very good captaincy by Porterfield, who switched eight bowlers of varying skills around rapidly to ensure that no batsman got comfortable against any one pair.
Virender Sehwag had opened this tournament with talk of how he wanted to bat through 50 overs. Following his tame dismissal squaring up to Trent Johnston and popping a simple return catch off the leading edge (the second such dismissal in three tries); a wag on Twitter remarked that Viru meant he wanted to bat 50 overs in the competition. Cruel - but the team could do with an encore of the 'Sehwag V2' that was being celebrated after his knock against Bangladesh in the tournament opener.
The wicket of Gautam Gambhir came in equally unexpected fashion. Johnston's delivery was innocuous - length, on leg. Gambhir looked to tuck it off his hips, and seemingly didn't realize that Cusack was posted there for that shot - in the event, he picked the fielder out with unerring accuracy.
Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli - the latter returned to his preferred position at number four - then settled into a phase of calm recovery. Run-making was hard against a bunch of Irish who threw themselves around, especially in the ring, with all the verve of refugees from a circus (the fact that there was not even a single two in the partnership is a tribute to how ferociously the Irish attacked the ball), and the partnership was barely managing to keep pace with the Ireland innings (87/2 in 20 against Ireland's 82/2 in 20). But the two seemed untroubled, and the target was low enough to afford them the luxury of ambling along, until Tendulkar fell victim to his bizarre penchant for gifting his wicket to wet-behind-the-ears bowlers, particularly of the left arm variety.
George Dockrell, a mischievous twinkle in his parents' eyes when Tendulkar made his World Cup debut, was brought on and immediately straightened one off length, defeating Tendulkar's sweep to hit the back pad bang in front of middle, and the resuscitating 3rd wicket stand of 63 off 89 deliveries was abruptly terminated.
A disastrous run out shortly thereafter caused visions of an upset. Yuvraj cut at a ball and Kohli raced down the wicket for the single - only, Yuvraj is way past those halcyon days when he had the rep of the best between wickets in the Indian ranks. He did not budge, and Kohli was too far down the track to be able to beat even the ordinary throw to the bowler's end.
With singles incredibly difficult against the Irish fielding, and boundary balls not coming as regularly as the Indians would have liked, India actually fell off the pace, reaching 120/4 after 30 overs against the Irish score of 131/4 at the same point; at the 40 over mark India had inched to 167/4 (Ireland 172/6). The one thing India had going for it was that this was around the point when Yuvraj was rolling the Irish over; the target for the last ten overs, with a batting power play available, was a mere 41.
With the first ball of the 41st over, Dockrell sent Dhoni back with a straight ball on middle and leg. Dhoni, working hard to manufacture a single, looked to push it away on the on side, missed, and was hit on the back foot. At that point the teenager, into his final over, with figures of 9.1-0-34-2, likely wondered what the fuss was all about - look how he had knocked over the world's most famous batsman, and the opposition captain.
He found out. Yusuf Pathan strode out, spent all of one ball getting a sighter of the wicket; then wound up and pulled the next for four. The next ball was heaved over long off for six; the one following was hit straighter, harder, further, disappearing into the crowds behind the bowler's back.
What impressed was that even in the face of that unbridled brutality, the Irish would not wilt. Rankin and Stirling, backed by fielders who looked as fresh as at the start of the innings, gave Pathan and Yuvraj a mere 9 runs in the next three overs, before Stirling made the mistake of putting a ball just short, permitting Yusuf to swing his arms through the line for yet another straight six.
Ireland just didn't have enough runs on the board, though, to keep the pressure up. India took the power play in the 46th (Okay, "took" indicates some choice in the matter, but at this point it was mandatory), and sealed the deal when Yuvraj flicked a full toss to his favorite spot on the wide long on boundary for four, got a single to seal his half century, and watched Yusuf pull fiercely behind square to drag India past the finish line.
India walked off the park with a 5-wicket win with 4 overs still in hand; Ireland walked off with head held high, deserving of all the respect coming their way. They may be titular minnows, but for the second time in two games they played like giants.