Shahid Afridi’s mercurial all-round talents carried Pakistan through to their second successive ICC World Twenty20 final, as South Africa yet again fell at the penultimate hurdle.
Afridi’s 51 provided the impetus in an oddly-paced Pakistan total of 149 for four — and he then took two for 16 in four overs of wrist-spin to help leave his opponents seven runs short, despite Jacques Kallis’ 64.
The first defeat of South Africa’s campaign eliminated them – the fourth time they have gone out at the semi-final stage of a major ICC tournament — and Pakistan will instead face either Sri Lanka or West Indies at Lord’s on Sunday.
South Africa remain desperate to shed the ‘chokers’ tag now inked in against them, having left themselves too much to do against Umar Gul et al in the ‘death’ overs.
Pakistan lived up to their own reputation for eccentricity, in a minor way, by bizarrely leaving only three overs for their most reliable bowler Gul.
But they had enough in reserve to ensure that self-inflicted disadvantage amounted only to a puzzling rather than damning statistic.
Pakistan chose to bat first on a pitch with more pace than most have had here in this competition — and less obvious assistance to spin.
Their innings, on a bright evening, was a curious stop-start affair which was nonetheless eventually vindicated.
It started at break-neck speed, Kamran Akmal blazing a succession of early boundaries despite the departure of Shahzaib Hasan for a second-ball duck when he mistimed an attempted pull at Wayne Parnell to be very well-caught by Roelof van der Merwe running back at mid-on.
Akmal and Afridi bludgeoned Pakistan’s way to 43 for two after five overs, the opener gone by then when he too mispulled to be caught at mid-on off Dale Steyn.
The relaxation of fielding restrictions explained a second five overs in which Pakistan could add only 25 runs.
But it was harder to rationalise the split of 52 in the next five and then only 29 in the last quarter, particularly because only one wicket fell in each of those sections.
Afridi had announced himself with a brutal four over mid-on off Parnell, from the first reachable delivery he received.
Akmal struck the pace of Steyn dismissively over long-off for six. But it soon became apparent his replacement Shoaib Malik was content to push the gaps to get Afridi on strike in a third-wicket stand of 67 in 10 overs.
Afridi responded with four successive off-side fours in one over from Johan Botha, who has been the slow-bowling cornerstone of South Africa’s gameplan over the past two weeks but this time went for 23 runs in only half his scheduled allocation.
Afridi charged on to a 32-ball 50, only to fall immediately afterwards when he aimed a huge hit at the first of JP Duminy’s off-spinners and skied a catch to short midwicket.
Malik never reached a run-a-ball tempo — and had still found the boundary only twice — before picking out long-off when he went after van der Merwe’s left-arm spin.
It was therefore down to Younus Khan and Abdul Razzaq to try to rescue the 160-plus total which had seemed likely.
Graeme Smith turned to his two frontline pace bowlers for the last four overs, and they took their cue for a series of impressively well-directed yorkers.
The impression was that Pakistan had failed to make par with the bat, and South Africa still looked favourites as Kallis and Smith got their reply off to a wicketless near eight-an-over start in the first five overs.
Smith was dropped by Gul, who almost did himself a mischief when he mis-judged a skier at mid-on off Razzaq.
But the South Africa captain went soon afterwards when he badly mistimed another pull and was caught and bowled by Mohammad Amir.
It was Afridi’s entrance into the attack that changed the game, though.
Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers were transfixed by his variations, bowled in contrasting but equally comprehensive fashion as he took two big wickets in four balls.
Kallis and Duminy responded to the loss of three team-mates for 10 runs with a stand of 61. But the increasing suspicion was that they were falling worryingly off the pace.
So it proved, despite Kallis taking advantage of a spare over from seventh bowler Fawad Alam which saw him complete a 46-ball 50 and celebrate with a straight six to add to his seven fours.
Gul’s false start at the Radcliffe Road end had left him with only two more possible from the other direction.
But Kallis finally fell to the first ball of the 18th over, with an unlikely 38 still needed, when he lofted Saeed Ajmal high to long-on — where Shoaib Malik kept his cool to hang on to a tough, pressure catch.
Duminy did his best to narrow the margin, but it was always going to be too little too late for a team who had pushed perfection through the tournament yet were again, like on so many occasions in the past, found wanting when it mattered most.
Article Courtesy : Belfast Telegraph
Photo Courtesy: Guardian Newspaper