Virender Sehwag and Saurav Ganguly slammed contrasting centuries as India stormed into the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy cricket tournament with a crushing eight-wicket victory against England in a crucial Group B league match at Colombo last night.
Sehwag blasted 21 fours and one six in a blazing career-best score of 126 off just 104 balls which very nearly eclipsed Ganguly's knock of 117 not out.
India overtook England's score of 269 for seven with more than ten overs to spare and set up a semi-final clash with Group C winners South Africa on September 25.
Sehwag and Ganguly put up 192 runs for the opening wicket in just 28 overs, reducing a keenly-awaited match into a virtual no-contest.
England, who elected to bat after captain Nasser Hussain won the toss, survived a nightmarish start to post a decent total, thanks mainly to Ian Blackwell who top-scored with 82.
Blackwell, playing only his second one-dayer, led a middle-order resurgence that saw Ronnie Irani, Owais Shah and Alec Stewart chipping in with useful scores.
But Sehwag and Ganguly made England score look highly inadequate. Ganguly, who was totally eclipsed by his partner during their opening wicket stand, came into his own towards the end of the innings. He brought up his 19th one-day hundred with a huge six off Blackwell and then smashed another six and four off Dominic Cork in the next over to take India to victory.
Sehwag, whose only previous century in one-day cricket had also come in Sri Lanka, set the ground ablaze with some lusty hitting. He went after every bowler but Andrew Caddick bore the maximum brunt, his first spell of six overs costing England 49 runs.
Ganguly on the other hand was struggling to find the gaps and reduced to a silent spectator as Sehwag blazed his way through to 50 in 37 balls and then 100 in 77 balls.
In a bid to match his partner, Ganguly also attempted some big shots but was lucky that the mishits landed safely.
Then he reconciled to playing second fiddle until he finally found his touch towards the end.
So confident was Sehwag that after facing a couple of dot balls on 96, he took the risk and lofted Ronnie Irani to the long-on fence for his 17th boundary to bring up his hundred.
Immediately, thereafter he hit Dominic Cork for two successive boundaries. Earlier, he had hit Caddick for an astonishing six over the third-man fence.
Sehwag's pyrotechnics saw India reaching 169 in 25 overs, needing just four runs an over from the other 25.
However, he did not remain long enough to see India to the victory mark as he was caught and bowled by Blackwell in the 29th over.
India lost another wicket two overs later, that of V.V.S. Laxman who was run out for four. However, the fall of two wickets did not affect the fortunes of the two teams.
Ganguly, who had completed his 50 off 68 balls, took the responsibility of guiding his team to victory and did not let a goodly crowd, the best the tournament had seen so far, miss the entertainment of Sehwag.
Sachin Tendulkar, who had come at the fall of Laxman, was on eight when Ganguly entered the nineties. Tendulkar scored just one more run after that while Ganguly traded in boundaries to go till 117.
Earlier, left-arm seamers Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra produced fiery opening spells to leave England reeling at seven for two in the sixth over.
Zaheer Khan's first two overs were maidens and he repeatedly beat the batsmen but it was Nehra who claimed both Marcus Trescothick (0) and Hussain (1).
After the first ten overs, England had scored just 23 runs. But Ronnie Irani and opener Nick Knight slowly rebuilt the innings and enabled the later order batsmen to launch an assault in the final overs.
Irani made a quickfire 37 with five fours while Knight scored 50 off 70 balls, the two putting on 73 for the third wicket in about 13 overs. Knight added a further 47 runs for the fourth wicket with Owais Shah who made 34.
However, it was Blackwell who took the Indians by surprise. He started off quietly, accumulating his runs with ones and twos before opening up to play the big shots.
Blackwell added 104 runs for the sixth wicket with veteran Alec Stewart who contributed 35 runs off 44 balls with just one boundary. Due to the efforts of these two batsmen, England added 79 runs in the last ten overs.