I had goosebumps walking back from Younis Khan’s press conference. There was bedlam in the streets outside Trent Bridge – car horns blaring, klaxons, guys leaning out of car windows waving flags, traffic at a standstill. Pakistan are the outcasts of international cricket, for reasons way beyond the players’ and fans’ control, and you couldn’t help but be chuffed for them. Soon after the match, I’d had a good laugh as I spotted a placard that read: “Cost of match ticket: £40, Cost of replica shirt: £20, India going home: Priceless.” After two years of putting up with Indian gloating, the lead-toed boot is on the other foot, and the chants of “Pakistan zindabad” will probably still break Nottingham’s night-time silence for a few hours yet.
In the city associated with Robin Hood, Pakistan came out and played like merry men, with an intensity that had been absent from their performances until they hammered New Zealand. No one illustrated that desire better than Shahid Afridi, whose uselessness with the bat in recent times has been in stark contrast to his brilliance with the ball. But sent in at No.3 and given license to express himself, he caught South Africa cold. It would be simplistic to say that his assault on Johan Botha changed the game, but it did ensure that the two-pronged spin attack that had been so lethal against India wouldn’t be repeated here.
South Africa battled back superbly with the ball, with Wayne Parnell in particular showing the composure of a wizened veteran after being walloped for 14 in his first over. Once Pakistan were kept below 150, South Africa were favourites, but there’s something about them in the really big games that makes you wonder if they ever will break that big-cup hoodoo. Graeme Smith was flat and with Jacques Kallis so orthodox in his approach, they really needed someone to be inventive against the spinners. Perhaps they missed a trick by not promoting Mark Boucher.
Kallis and JP Duminy added 61, but by the time Kallis departed, after being riled by what Afridi called a “flying kiss”, the asking-rate needed Gary Sobers rather than Albie Morkel. And after Afridi had starred with a super spell of 2 for 16, Umar Gul was impeccable at the death, sending down yorkers almost at will. Faced with a side that raised their game immeasurably for the big occasion, South Africa had no answers. At least it wasn’t as embarrassing as the 50-over World Cup semi-final two years ago, when Glenn McGrath and friends ended the contest before most punters could grab a beer.
Afterwards, Younis was asked why Pakistan couldn’t be consistent. “Look at the situation in our country,” he said. “It’s not at all stable. Why do you expect cricketers to be any different?” It was perhaps said in jest, but he has a valid point. Like a coin, you just can’t predict which side will turn up.