Afridi revels in licence to thrill crowd

Colourful all-rounder told to 'play his own game' as Pakistan edge South Africa
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The Independent Online

It is exactly 10 years to the day since Pakistan – and Shahid Afridi – last appeared in the showpiece Lord's final of a global cricket tournament. It all went horribly wrong for Pakistan and Afridi, then 19, in the 1999 World Cup final as Australia bowled them out for 132 and raced to a nine-wicket win.

One of Pakistan's most embarrassing days on the field finished very early, in front of a packed and disappointed crowd, as Australia completed the job with almost 30 of their 50 overs unused.

A decade on, Afridi wrote the latest chapter in a colourful career with a match-winning all-round performance in last night's World Twenty20 semi-final victory over perennial big-stage stooges South Africa.

A hugely instinctive and charismatic cricketer, it will be surprising if the events of Lord's 1999 are anywhere near the front of his mind as he prepares for Sunday's final.

Much more likely, Afridi will be reliving his 33-ball half-century and 2 for 16 with the ball at Trent Bridge that did so much to finish off the tournament favourites yesterday.

One of only two players in the current Pakistan squad who survive from that last Lord's appearance – in the absence of the ill Shoaib Akhtar – Afridi is bolstered by the benign presence of Younus Khan. Captain and apparent mentor, Younus is well aware he has a match-winner on his hands, and is determined to let Afridi do his own thing. "Younus always really supports me, and that's what I need from the captain. The coach [Intikhab Alam] is helping me as well," Afridi admitted. "I'm ready for the final."

Afridi began his innings against South Africa by crunching a big hit over mid-on for a one-bounce four, from the first delivery he could reach.

It is intriguing therefore to learn he is trying a more patient approach, in search of a lasting return to form after a fallow spell with bat – if not ball. "In the last couple of games, I've tried to really build my innings," Afridi said.

"But Younus told me before, 'Just go and play your own game – don't worry about anything. There is no pressure on you'. He said 'Just take your time. Every bowler is easy for you if you do that – take responsibility. You are my main player'."

He may appear pretty much the same Afridi – well-known and mostly loved. The man himself, though, believes he is doing things slightly differently. "In the last two-and-a-half or three years, I haven't performed that well with the bat," he admitted. "But the team need me to do it."

As for his captain, Younus clearly recognises the potential of an uninhibited talent – Afridi is far from the only one in Pakistan's team – and he will not suddenly start to over-complicate matters, just because they happen to have reached the final. "There is no planning for the final," he claims. "The planning is very simple – just go there and play your natural game.

"I still believe Twenty20 cricket is 'entertainment' cricket – and there is no South Africa, no Australia, no India in the final."

Indian batsman Virender Sehwag has undergone shoulder surgery and could be out for at least three months. The 30-year-old opener, who missed the Twenty20 World Cup, went under the knife in London last week for a shoulder tear and has begun rehabilitation.