From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.26 :: Jun. 27, 2009

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CRICKET / SEMIFINAL: PAKISTAN V SOUTH AFRICA

Afridi’s all-round show

Pakistan played out of its skin to ambush South Africa by seven runs at Trent Bridge in the first semifinal of the ICC World Twenty20. S. Dinakar reports.

Graeme Smith looked for solace in the packed press conference room. He couldn’t find any. The dreaded question was going to come at him again. “Why do the South Africans choke in the crunch games?”

Smith replied after a seemingly endless pause. “This tag will be flying around more after this match. It’s a combination of so many things. In the last two years we have won Test series in England and Australia. I guess it is a combination of so many things. Luck and the fact that the other team did really well on the day.”

Indeed, Pakistan played out of its skin to ambush South Africa by seven runs at Trent Bridge in the first semifinal of the ICC World Twenty20. A target of 150 was always going to be hard against a capable bowling unit. South Africa was undone by the pressures of the chase.

The Man from the Mountains, Shahid Afridi, boomed on a huge occasion. He was explosive with the bat and irrepressible with the ball. He removed South Africa’s two finest players of spin. Herschelle Gibbs was castled by one which skidded through straight. And key batsman Abraham de Villiers was done in by a wrong ’un even as he attempted a fatal cut shot. While leg-spin remained Afridi’s stock ball, he brought his other variations into play.

Afridi’s accuracy and useful support from off-spinner Ajmal choked the flow of runs in the middle overs. South Africa lost from that point onwards. A battling Jacques Kallis held the innings together for most part. Yet, he got bogged down against Afridi and Ajmal and the asking rate climbed.

The impressive Umar Gul sent down his yorkers with a surgeon’s precision in the climactic stages to virtually seal the match. The batsmen were forced to dig out yorkers instead of finding boundaries. And the young left-arm paceman Mohammed Amir held his nerve at the finish. The left-handed Jean Paul Duminy hung around and then struck a couple of big blows towards the end but this was not South Africa’s day.

The Pakistani fielding showed significant improvement to create the stress. The vast number of Pakistan supporters in the stands was jubilant.

Pakistan also made smart tactical switches. Afridi came in at No. 3. He had been short of runs with the willow and it was a daring move by the think-tank. The ploy worked.

South Africa’s bowling strategy — the management of overs holds the key — was disrupted. The pre-match favourite became the hunted.

The team management’s belief in his ability had lifted Afridi’s spirits. His 34-ball 51 was a rollicking effort of bright stroke-play. He is brave of heart and punishing with his strokes. He drove and pulled the pacemen, jumped down the track to the spinners, and hit the ball in the right areas. This was no mindless slogging. His inside-out shots over covers off off-spinner Johan Botha, spinning the ball into the right-hander, were high on the scale of difficulty.

It was also a day when skipper Younis was spot on with his decisions. He decided to bat despite a cloud cover. He was clear in his mind about putting up a score on the board. He was also certain that the rather dry pitch would assist the spinners later on.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Kamran Akmal fired at the start; he took on pace spearhead Dale Steyn and launched into left-armer Wayne Parnell with well-placed pulls. Afridi then assumed centre-stage. When Jacques Kallis pitched short, he was twice pulled with aplomb by Afridi. The Pakistani was not going to be pegged back by the short-stuff.

The score was 47 for two after the Power Play overs. Shoaib Malik rotated the strike. Afridi continued to pound the bowling. Afridi’s half-century consumed only 33 balls. After his attempted slog sweep off off-spinner Duminy was held at mid-on, Afridi walked back to a roar of appreciation.

Pakistan lost momentum towards the end with Younis and Abdul Razzaq unable to force Steyn and Parnell; both bowled a series of full length deliveries and changed their pace well.

“We were around 15 runs short,” conceded Younis. His bowlers made up for the slight mess-up towards the end. Afridi — the match-winning all-rounder — was back.

THE SCORES

First semifinal: Pakistan v South Africa. Result: Pakistan won by seven runs.

Pakistan: K. Akmal c Morkel b Steyn 23; S. Hasan c Van der Merwe b Parnell 0; S. Afridi c De Villiers b Duminy 51; S. Malik c Botha b Van der Merwe 34; Younis Khan (not out) 24; A. Razzaq (not out) 12; Extras (lb-2, w-3) 5. Total (for four wkts., in 20 overs) 149.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-28, 3-95, 4-124.

South Africa bowling: Steyn 4-0-28-1; Parnell 4-0-26-1; Kallis 2-0-14-0; A. Morkel 2-0-13-0; Van der Merwe 4-0-29-1; Botha 2-0-23-0; Duminy 2-0-14-1.

South Africa: J. Kallis c Malik b Ajmal 64; G. Smith c & b Aamer 10; H. Gibbs b Afridi 5; A. B. de Villiers b Afridi 1; J. Duminy (not out) 44; A. Morkel (run out) 2; M. Boucher (not out) 0; Extras (b-4, lb-11, w-1) 16. Total (for five wkts., in 20 overs) 142.

Fall of wickets: 1-40, 2-46, 3-50, 4-111, 5-134.

Pakistan bowling: Razzaq 3-0-19-0; Aamer 4-0-30-1; Afridi 4-0-16-2; Ajmal 4-0-23-1; Malik 1-0-5-0; Gul 3-0-19-0; Alam 1-0-15-0.



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