Afridi sinks South Africa, and Sri Lanka's new tricks

Our reporters look back on their favourite World Twenty20 matches

George Binoy
George Binoy
The warm-up: The first semi-final of the 2009 World Twenty20, in Nottingham, was contested by sides that played cricket in extremely different ways. South Africa were military: scarily fit, precision drilled, disciplined and in prime form. They looked like a team from a more advanced future and, having blitzed most opponents to enter the final four unbeaten, were favourites.
Pakistan were more familiar. They had dropped two games in the group stages, defeats caused by errors characteristic of a team that relied more on raw talent than any sort of method. The only strong side Pakistan had beaten was New Zealand. Younis Khan, the captain, had even made this bizarre comment after the loss to England: "It's not a disaster for Pakistan if we fail to qualify for [the] Super Eight round because this Twenty20 cricket is all about fun, though its an international but it's all a fun game."
And so it began, the semi-final between a team that was destined to be at Trent Bridge and a team that had somehow got there.
The match itself: South Africa did not choke. They were overwhelmed by a spirited Pakistan led by their most visceral, natural player - Shahid Afridi. Batting at No.3, he began by lofting his first ball, off one of the tournament's best bowlers Wayne Parnell, over mid-on for four, and continued to choose his moments well. There was no mad slog that been the end of so many Afridi innings. After hitting Jacques Kallis for two fours, Afridi blew him a cheeky little kiss. He tore into Johan Botha, hitting him inside out for three consecutive boundaries before cutting for the fourth in the over. Afridi made 51 off 34 balls and contributions from Shoaib Malik and Younis Khan led Pakistan to 149 for 4.
South Africa started smoothly, reaching 40 in the sixth over before Graeme Smith fell. Afridi came on in the seventh and ripped a leg break past Jacques Kallis' bat. Two balls later, Herschelle Gibbs played for the legspin but the ball skidded into him and through his defences. Afridi, Saeed Ajmal and Shoaib Malik slowed South Africa down and, even though Jacques Kallis made 64, no one batted around him. They were contained and fell seven runs short.
Highlight: In the over after he bowled Gibbs, Afridi produced a legbreak that found an outside edge from AB de Villiers. Kamran Akmal dropped it. The next ball was a slider; de Villiers tried to cut it but played on. Afridi stood mid-pitch, legs splayed, chest thrust out, right arm pointing skywards, drawing his team-mates like a magnet, exuding machismo.
Few cricketers can get a crowd going like Afridi can. The sizeable number of fans that had turned Trent Bridge into a home venue for Pakistan had already been stirred into frenzy by Afridi's innings, and his twin strikes only amped up the atmosphere. The DJ indulgence his audience, playing Dil, Dil, Pakistan and the fans sung passionately in unison. They partied hard during the game and long after, jamming the roads around the ground, clambering on top of cars and blaring horns during deliriously happy celebrations. Those Pakistan fans were a credit to the competition.
The aftermatch: Pakistan covered themselves in glory at Lord's, with Afridi playing another starring role against Sri Lanka in the final. Their victory brought joy to fans in Pakistan, who would not be able to watch international cricket at home for years, following the terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus only a few months ago. Younis Khan promptly announced his retirement from the Twenty20 format at the post-match press conference.
South Africa were easily the best team in the tournament until that point and were left fielding questions with the C word. But it wasn't a choke, it was Shahid Afridi.


The warm-up: Sri Lanka, West Indies and Australia were pooled in Group C of the 2009 World Twenty20 in England. And because of Chris Gayle, Andre Fletcher, Lasith Malinga, Ajantha Mendis and Tillakaratne Dilshan, Australia had already been eliminated by the time Sri Lanka and West Indies met, so their contest at Trent Bridge was merely to decide which team would top the group.
The match itself: Chris Gayle missed the game because of a knee injury sustained against Australia and so it was Sri Lanka's left-hand opener, a much older Sanath Jayasuriya, who put on a show. Thriving on the width given to him, Jayasuriya cut and drove like he did in his heyday, and whipped balls off his pads when the line was too straight. His innings was a blur of boundaries square of the wicket and he dominated most of the early scoring.
However, when Dilshan hit his first boundary, he did so with what was later christened the Dilscoop, chipping Kieron Pollard over the wicketkeeper's head. The shot and its variants are common now but at the time the world had onlyseen it once, when Dilshan had played it against Australia. Two balls later he cracked Pollard over the point boundary and Sri Lanka were firing from both ends. The opening partnership was a thundery 124 by the time Jayasuriya fell in the 13th over and Sri Lanka eventually made 192 for 5. Both openers had faced 47 balls: Jayasuriya made 81, Dilshan 74.
West Indies' chase began swiftly too, through Lendl Simmons and largesse from Sri Lanka's bowlers and fielders. They were 70 for 1 in the seventh over when Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis (M&Ms they were called) struck three times in eight balls, reducing West Indies to 73 for 4. The run-rate had to reduce thereafter but Dwayne Bravo kept his team in the game with a half-century. His dismissal in the 18th over - caught off Malinga - was what swung the game decisively Sri Lanka's way. They won by 15 runs and topped the toughest group in the tournament.
Highlight: Acrobatic feats on the boundary have proliferated over the last couple of years, but they were a rarity in 2009 and Angelo Mathews' pioneering effort at Trent Bridge will still rank among the best. Ramnaresh Sarwan lofted Ajantha Mendis towards the long-on boundary, where Mathews back-pedalled to take a well-judged catch while still on the move. Realising his momentum was going to take him over the rope and result in a six, Mathews lobbed the ball up in the air and then stepped over the boundary. He whipped around quickly to see that the ball was descending over the boundary and showed incredible presence of mind to leap into the air and forehand the ball back into play. The whole act was done in a couple of seconds. He hit the non-striker's stumps directly from the deep as well, by which time the batsmen had run three, and after endless replays the umpires decided that Mathews' brilliance in the field had indeed saved Sri Lanka three runs.
The aftermatch: West Indies finished second in their preliminary group and were second in their Super Eights group as well, by beating England and India, and losing to South Africa. They faced Sri Lanka once again, in the semi-final at The Oval, and lost by 57 runs. Dilshan plundered 96 and Mathews took three wickets in the first over to destroy the West Indian chase.
Sri Lanka won all three Super Eight group matches and beat West Indies in the semi-final to set up a summit clash against Pakistan at Lord's. It was a match between two teams that had been part of one of cricket's worst days - the terror attack during Sri Lanka's tour to Pakistan a few months ago. In the final, Dilshan was dismissed for a duck, and Sri Lanka were kept to 138, which Pakistan chased with eight wickets in hand and eight balls to spare.

George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo