Well, I knew that one team that started the tournament a few paces short of the required run-up would come good, I just wasn’t figuring on it being Pakistan.
Well, actually, I was, however much I tried to convince myself that the humiliation of England’s defeat by Holland would have galvanised Paul Collingwood and his merry men and leave those who found the opening game debacle at Lord’s amusing laughing on the other side of their faces come our triumphant return to the home of cricket for the final.
No, it was not to be – not even after England had recovered from the Dutch disaster to outplay Pakistan in their other group match – and so it will not be Kevin Pietersen and Ravi Bopara gracing the hallowed turf on Sunday, but Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul…something you couldn’t really have foreseen after witnessing their rather inspid performance at the Oval, where they seemed to show complete indifference to chasing an England total that certainly shouldn’t have been beyond them on one of the best batting surfaces on which most players will ever have the fortune to step out
So it would be churlish not to congratulate them in turning things around, even if they did find themselves in the less testing of the two Super Eight groups. For the fates have not been kind to Pakistan cricket in recent years, the security and political issues that have afflicted their country depriving them not just of success but of the game itself.
No wonder the outpouring of fanaticism – and I mean that word in its most positive sense – that has pervaded the matches they’ve been involved with, from Trent Bridge to the Oval to Lord’s.
It was shortly after the dismissal of AB de Villiers in the semi-final that I realised South Africa were doomed. As Afridi played to his many admirers – a couple of girls in the crowd seemed to be advertising their mobile phone numbers to him on one of the many placards that was raised in celebration – the decibel level coursed through strident and deafening with barely a backward glance and ended up somewhere between cacophonous and ear-splitting.
Even as calm a head as JP Duminy has proved himself to possess in a relatively short international career seemed to be wobbling on its neck muscles.
And that is why the criticism of Duminy and the South African run chase in general – maybe Morkel should have come in earlier but bear in mind that Afridi had dismissed two of their quickest run scorers in a matter of balls – seems to me to be a bit wide of the mark.
The momentum had well and truly turned; whatever Jacques Kallis, Duminy or Morkel could have done, it would not have been enough. It was not so much Insha’Allah – God willing – but something more powerful than that: the Pakistan populace of Nottingham and its surrounding areas willing.
And that transmitted itself to the middle where a team renowned for its flightiness remained remarkably down to earth. To the point in fact where even the hardest and most free-hitting clubbers of a cricket ball would have struggled to get sufficient wood under the reverse-swinging yorkers that Gul bowled with an accuracy and consistency that bowlers such as Stuart Broad and Ryan Sidebottom can still only dream of.