LONDON // Even at Lord's, which still retains its old world ambiance despite the razzmatazz of Twenty20, Pakistan's supporters remain the most raucous in cricket. Despite the strictly-enforced bans on musical instruments, they would not be silenced during their must-win match against the Netherlands yesterday.
Some even managed to smuggle home-made banners - a feature of matches on the subcontinent - into the ground. A luminous green one read: "Shahid Afridi - hit a six or else." While Afridi's batting remains the main attraction for his legion of fans, it has been his bowling which is the most potent threat in the 20-over game. He was the player of the tournament when Pakistan reached the final of the first World Twenty20 two years ago, yet still has a best score of a mere 39 in the format.
He has befuddled better players than the Dutch, as recently as last month in Dubai when he ripped through Australia's celebrated line-up, and his figures of 4-11 yesterday saved Pakistan from an early flight home. Stage-fright was just as accountable as the high-quality spin-bowling of Saeed Ajmal and Afridi for the demise of the plucky part-timers from Europe. The bunch of amateurs would have made it even if they had lost to Pakistan had they ensured the margin of defeat was not more than 25 runs. They eventually lost by 82 runs. When the pressure of getting closer to Pakistan's total of 175 was at its height, they imploded.
Three hours earlier, life had seemed so different. If the Dutch players were nervous about the prospect of facing such a high pressure play-off, they did not let on. They have revelled in the acclaim after upsetting the tournament hosts, England, on the opening night. They basked in their well-earned few minutes of fame. Tom de Grooth, the match-winner against England, has been a man in demand, while Darron Reekers, a burly batsman, did the job of presenting a bulletin for Sky Sports from their training session at Southgate on Monday. On the morning of the decisive match, their players spent the majority of their warm-up bouncing around like a bunch of excitable schoolchildren catching frisbees. The work-out served them well when the match started, as they flung themselves around the outfield as if their lives, not just a Super Eights place, depended on it. Pakistan, by contrast, continue to be every bit as bad at fielding as the Dutch were good. It followed on from a similar horror-show against England, and it looked as though it would cost them their place in the competition. When Salman Butt, who put down a slew of chances over the course of Pakistan's two games, finally held one to dismiss Peter Borren off Ajmal, his teammates celebrated as though they had won the cup. The joy pointed to relief more than anything, but it also proved a turning point. Two balls later, Ajmal used his contentious doosra delivery to get rid of Alexei Kervezee and, at 49-4, the initial target of 151 to advance looked a distant dream. So it proved, as the middle-order capitulated meekly to end their fairytale. email@example.com