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Pakistan revels after Afridi's heroics

PAKISTANIS celebrated their team's progress to the Twenty20 World Cup final in England on Thursday after Shahid Afridi's brilliance with both the bat and ball stumped favorite South Africa in the semifinals.

Fans in this cricket-mad country gathered at homes, in restaurants and in front of giant screens on Thursday night to watch Pakistan restore some pride to the country's reputation.

Captain Younis Khan was an instant hero and welcomed the win as a morale boost that would reverberate beyond sport. "Actually this World Cup is everything for us," he said after the win and Trent Bridge. "We're suffering from everything at the moment, there is a lot of fighting (in Pakistan) so this is everything for me and my team."

Pakistan did not play a single test last year and last March six Sri Lanka players were wounded following an armed attack on the team bus in Lahore.

People stayed glued to their television sets and giant screens in public places despite the tense battle against South Africa going well past the midnight.

"Let's enjoy Pakistan's march into the final," was the announcement in a compound at Rawalpindi as around 100 college students gathered in front of a screen before the semifinal.

The young supporters clapped and cheered every boundary hit by Afridi, who blazed 51 off mere 34 deliveries in a total of 149-4. Then he took 2-16 as previously unbeaten South Africa was limited to 142-5 and extended an 11-year drought in major tournaments.

"It feels as if we are in Nottingham," said Ali Nooruddin, a 12th grade student who had come to watch the match with half a dozen friends.

They held their heads in despair when Afridi departed in the 13th over.

"He has done his job," Juzar Ishaq shouted to those around him, trying to bolster spirits as Afridi walked back to the dugout.

While Afridi cleaned up the stumps of dangerous Herschelle Gibbs, it was the departure of A.B. de Villiers that relieved the tension.

Perennial chokers

Captain Graeme Smith was asked about South Africa's reputation as perennial chokers, and wasn't impressed.

"Every time we lose an important game like this one that word is going to get thrown around," he said. "This tournament is knockout pretty much from the word go, so maybe the teams that got knocked out in the Super 8s choked."

Many in Pakistan considered the match to be the final before the final, believing South Africa to be a more difficult opponent than the other semifinalists: West Indies and Sri Lanka.

"Bring on anyone, we will beat them," said Hamza Sultan as the youngsters left the compound after the game.

The ever-growing security concerns of foreign teams forced ICC to shift the Champions Trophy from Pakistan last year. It remains one of the four World Cup 2011 co-hosts along with India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, but must organize its matches outside Pakistan.

The fans are anxiously awaiting tomorrow's final and have already started making preparations for another long night in front of the giant screen.

"It will be better if Sri Lanka qualifies," said Murtaza Badar.


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