Twenty20 World Cup 2009 June 13, 2009

Afridi lights the fire

Umar Gul fried New Zealand at The Oval but it was Shahid Afridi who lit the fire, with a sprinting catch and some mesmerising bowling

Shahid Afridi's array of drifters, spinners and yorkers bamboozled New Zealand © Associated Press

Umar Gul fried New Zealand at The Oval but it was Shahid Afridi who lit the fire. Afridi's sprinting catch off Scott Styris was a delightful surprise for all Pakistan fans, and it set the tone for a sparkling performance and swung the psychology of the match in Pakistan's favour.

Let's be clear, Pakistan still have their problems. The fielding can be geriatric and the batting isn't entirely convincing but Pakistan's bowlers are becoming a formidable combination. The root of this is a varied bowling attack that can halt the run rate through aggression.

Gul produced a glorious record-breaking spell but his first wicket belonged to Afridi's exhilarating race to grasp Styris's soaring strike. By then Afridi had already bewildered New Zealand's batsmen with his array of drifters, spinners, and laser guided yorkers. For Afridi fans it is a relief that his bowling has become so formidable in cricket's shorter versions, else he might have been lost to the international arena.

What's more, Afridi also found time to revert to a batting approach that can restore his confidence. He remains a beautifully clean striker of the ball but he betrays his ability when he allows impatience to force him to hit across the line.

Afridi is at his best striking through the ball and straight, an approach that requires at least a few sighters before an all-out assault. Now Afridi and Pakistan have a further opportunity to fine tune their form and strategy when they seek revenge against Ireland and a berth in the semi-finals.

This was a good day for Pakistan. Apart from Afridi and Gul, Shahzaib demonstrated some promising firepower, and Aamer again showed ability and temperament that helped him recover from a poor start. Abdul Razzaq made a vital and emotional return too.

Pakistan know all too well that a team that times its run right can cause a surprise. A Pakistani triumph in this tournament would still be a surprise but only three straight Twenty20 victories, with the first against Ireland, is an appetising challenge.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here