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Toothless WI batting crumbles as green shirts storm into semis

DHAKA, March 23: Pakistan cricketers couldn’t have dreamt of a more appropriate National Day gift for their people as Shahid Afridi’s brigade stormed into the World Cup semi-finals after crushing the West Indies’ aspirations ruthlessly at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium here on Wednesday.

Pakistan’s first 10-wicket victory, set up by only their third opening century partnership in 10 World Cups, was a worthy performance from a team that had received average considerations in the pre-tournament debates. The manner in which the bowlers first and then Mohammad Hafeez and Kamran Akmal performed with the bat was clinical and simply awesome, the like of it hardly seen from Pakistan in many a World Cup fixtures.
Putting their uneasy tag of ‘unpredictability’ aside, Pakistan performed like a well-oiled machine much to the pleasure of huge support they received from the knowledgeable crowd which had gradually filled the 25,000-capacity stadium.

Afridi’s spirited bunch of cricketers are getting the respect they deserve more than the rest in the ongoing tournament while they wait to know the opponents they will by playing in the semi-final at Mohali next Wednesday (March 30). That will be
decided on Thursday when defending champions Australia take on India in the mouth-watering second quarter-final in Ahmedabad.

Only thing the West Indies managed to win was at the very start when Darren Sammy jumped in delight after winning his first toss — which later turned out be his last — of this World Cup. On a 260-score like pitch, the West Indies failed against an attack that gave them no chance to settle down as the meagre total of 112 in 43.3 overs tells the story.

In their turn at the crease, Pakistan knocked off the runs required without any blemish as Hafeez celebrated his maiden World Cup half-century (64 off 61 balls, 10 boundaries) to complete a superlative double since he had hitherto claimed two important wickets in a game the 30-year-old would never forget.

Kamran was not far behind as he made a personal contribution of a 61-ball 47 laced with seven fours while punishing the West Indies bowlers with ease. The wicket-keeper/batsman ended the game in style when he struck the winning boundary as the green shirts clinched the match with a whopping 175 balls (29.1 overs) to spare.

Pakistan could have hardly expected their opponents to be horrendously feeble but such was their dominance throughout this abbreviated opening quarter-final that even they were taken by surprise at the lack of competition from the West Indians in a game of such magnitude.

The wickets were shared around but the Pakistan spinners led the mayhem taking eight West Indies wickets for mere 64 runs in 27.4 overs.

The irresistible Afridi took the limelight with analysis of four for 30 in 9.3 overs while extending his haul further at the top of the bowlers’ chart to 21.

Hafeez built on his excellent spell against Australia (1-26 in 10 overs) in the final Group ‘A’ fixture in Colombo and strangulated the West Indian batsmen and comfortably took care of left-handers Devon Smith and Darren Bravo, both declared LBW by Steve Davis in the same over, in a brilliant opening eight-over spell from the Hospitality Box End.

And when Hafeez, supposedly the weakest link in the bowling armoury, was taken off, it was the other off-spinner, Saeed Ajmal, who came on to torment the West Indies further. Recalled in place of Abdur Rehman, the attacking Saeed just bamboozled Devon Thomas and Sammy with his ‘doosra’ and emulated Hafeez with double strike in one over.

At no stage did the West Indies ever looked like making a game of it; the entire innings contained just two partnerships both involving Shivnarine Chanderpaul — albeit nominal ones of 42 in 111 deliveries with Ramnaresh Sarwan and 40 off 87 balls with Kemar Roach — and only a handful of boundaries, seven fours and one six to be exact.

Chanderpaul — the eldest statesman (aged 36 years and 219 days on Wednesday) apart from Sachin Tendulkar among the teams qualifying for the knockout round — justified his recall to a large extent. And unlike the rest of his team-mates, Chanderpaul carried the faltering innings on his slim shoulders as he negotiated through 106 deliveries before being left high and dry on 44 — the only stroke worth a mention here in this pedestrian contribution was a slog-swept six off Saeed at the start of the 26th over.

Afridi had been saying all along both before and during the tournament this Pakistan team has the potential to reach the semi-finals at least. Now as this objective has been realised, Pakistan have exactly a week to plan out the strategy for their biggest game thus far as they are now just two matches away from repeating the 1992 glory achieved under Imran Khan’s guidance in Australia.