Thursday, June 18, 2009

Afridi Helps Pakistan to enter final

The South African juggernaut was brought to a screeching halt by Shahid Afridi who, with a little help from his team-mates, dumped tournament favourites out of the World Twenty20 and secured Pakistan's place in the final. Afridi put in an all-round performance of tremendous intensity, lifting Pakistan to a defendable total with an aggressive yet methodical half-century, before bowling a spell that left the South Africans winded at Trent Bridge.

The clinical South African side, who were unbeaten in the competition, were favourites going in to the semi-final and their bowlers fought admirably to restrict Pakistan to 149 when at one stage a total of 170 seemed on the cards. With the exception of Jacques Kallis, though, their batsmen failed to give the chase any sort of direction. They were suffocated by Afridi and Saeed Ajmal and their inability to score enough runs during the initial and middle overs left them with far too much to do against the pinpoint accuracy of Umar Gul's yorkers.

Each time Pakistan's batsmen accelerated and threatened to set a formidable target, South Africa's bowlers pulled the game back, a contest that made for riveting viewing at Trent Bridge. Kamran Akmal and Shahid Afridi played aggressively but South Africa's bowlers recovered ground by restricting the run-rate after their dismissals. The eventual total of 149 was one that Graeme Smith will be happy with, while Pakistan will feel they could have got a few more.

The game followed a strangely symmetric pattern. Pakistan dominated the first five overs, scoring 43, while South Africa fought back between overs five and ten to keep Pakistan to 68 for 2. Pakistan once again controlled the game between overs 11 and 15, reaching 120 for 3, but South Africa conceded only 29 off the last five overs.

Pakistan's early dominance was due to Akmal, who was intent on smashing the ball from the start. He cut Dale Steyn twice for four in the first over and lofted him cleanly over long-off in the third. In between, he crashed Wayne Parnell to the midwicket boundary and raced to 23 off 11 balls before top-edging a pull off Steyn to mid-on.

Pakistan had raced to 47 for 2 after six overs, with Afridi pulling Jacques Kallis twice through midwicket but South Africa then cut off the boundary supply. Afridi and Shoaib Malik didn't hit a boundary for 30 balls before Afridi slogged Roelof van der Merwe through midwicket. He moved on to cut loose against Johan Botha, making room to loft the offspinner thrice in a row to the cover boundary before unveiling a delectable late-cut to snatch 18 off the over. The 50-partnership had come up off 49 balls but Pakistan had begun to accelerate, with Afridi placing the ball into gaps consistently, plucking twos.

South Africa desperately needed Afridi's wicket and it was given to them by JP Duminy, who struck with his first ball. Afridi tried to slog sweep and skied the ball straight to AB de Villiers at midwicket who took a vital catch with ease. South Africa celebrated the wicket with more relief than joy.

Malik had played a more subdued, anchoring role until then, but began to step up, scoring his first boundary - a sweep off van der Merwe - off his 31st ball. He soon added another, hitting Duminy over extra cover, but eventually holed out to long-off.

Younis and Abdul Razzaq were two new batsmen at the crease and Parnell and Steyn bowled with extreme accuracy to deny them loose deliveries at the death. They could only pick off ones and twos and had to settle for 149, when 170 looked gettable at one stage.

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