Pakistan became the first country to qualify for a World Twenty20 final yesterday to come within touching distance of a complete reversal of fortune. Since they have been the most consistent team in the inaugural tournament this should have been no surprise – except that the combination of Twenty20 and Pakistan might have made anything possible.
In the event, they beat New Zealand with an occasional but understandable stutter in the first semi-final by six wickets with an over at their disposal. Their bowlers, both fast and slow, were again models of skill and accuracy, finding yorkers, slower balls, drift and turn.
For New Zealand to win, defending a total of 143, they had to hold on to every chance and failed badly to do so. Umar Gul, one of the most economical bowlers of the past fortnight, was again bang on the button and his three for 15 from four intelligent overs demonstrated that Twenty20 is not solely a game for batsmen. New Zealand had no answer.
It was the third time within 12 months that the Kiwis had fallen in the semi-finals following the Champions Trophy in India last October and the World Cup in the West Indies last April. If this begins to represent a psychological block, for Pakistan it was a turnaround.
They came into this competition after their appearance in the World Cup had been touched first by disappointment on the field and then shrouded in tragedy off it. They were knocked out in the first round and then their coach, Bob Woolmer, died in his Jamaican hotel room on the night of their elimination.
The death was initially adjudged to be murder and the entire Pakistan squad was interviewed by detectives. Weeks later the police conceded there had been a mistake and that Woolmer's death was accidental.
Pakistan appointed a new coach only a month ago and they surprised everybody in cricket by choosing the former Australia fast bowler, Geoff Lawson, who had virtually no senior coaching experience. He must have done something right in his short time in charge so far because Pakistan have played with an unfettered freedom and confidence.
Their only loss in the World Twenty20 has been against their arch-rivals India in a bowl-out after a tied match and they have beaten all other opposition comfortably. Like England, they chose players who had done well in domestic Twenty20, though clearly their implementation of the policy has been more successful.
New Zealand began the match strongly after winning the toss but a rain break at 44 for 0 adversely affected them. Thereafter they were always contained and only a last over which yielded 17 gave them a competitive score of 143-8.
In only the second over of Pakistan's reply the opener Imran Nazir was still on nought when he edged one behind, but the New Zealand wicketkeeper, Brendon McCullum, and the slip Scott Styris could only watch as the ball flew between the two of them. Nazir went on to make 59 from 41 balls, being dropped again on 44.
Pakistan's admirable new captain Shoaib Malik manned the battlements as Daniel Vettori, the best bowler in the competition, induced some panic. Overs can disappear suddenly in Twenty20. Shoaib was unflustered and finished the match with the ninth six of the innings.
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