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Players and politicians hail Afridi's men

KARACHI - Shahid Afridi's men should be given a heroes' welcome when they touch down in Pakistan despite their loss to India in the World Cup semi-finals, urged a number of former players on Thursday. A few years ago, Pakistan cricketers would have expected anger and backlash following a defeat by their traditional foes but former captain Javed Miandad said the class of 2011 should be lauded as they had exceeded expectations.

We need to support this team and appreciate their performance. They made mistakes and dropped catches in the semi-final and that cost them the match," former captain Miandad told Reuters. "But to reach the last-four stage was in itself a big achievement. They were not the subject of any controversy and played competitive cricket. The future is good for Pakistan cricket." Advancing to the last four appeared to be an impossible dream for Pakistan less than two months ago. The team had lost three of their most talented players -- Salman Butt and pace duo Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir -- to corruption bans and two weeks before the tournament they did not even know who their captain would be.

But once Afridi was appointed skipper, he united the squad and directed his men with a single minded focus that helped them top their group in the first round. They then went on to humiliate West Indies by 10 wickets in the quarter-finals. It is these kinds of memories that Pakistanis should hold on to, and not the ones where the team dropped four catches that let Sachin Tendulkar off the hook time and again on Wednesday, said a host of former players.

"The team fought well and had it not dropped the catches offered by Tendulkar the result could have been different," said Inzamam-ul-Haq.

Former wicketkeeper-batsman, Rashid Latif added: "Any other team would have succumbed to the pressures that came with the spot-fixing and disciplinary scandals. But our boys showed lot of grit and Shahid Afridi led them very well."

"Let's not be despondent or angry with this team. It has some outstanding players who will ensure a bright future for Pakistan cricket," said former captain Moin Khan. "The great thing about the match was the way it united us and proved how powerful cricket can be as a unifying tool." Leading politicians also hailed the team with Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, announcing a cash award of half a million rupees ($5,864) for each player. "The boys have done us proud and played well to reach the semi-finals. I will go myself to greet them," Sharif told Geo News.