Shahid Afridi turned in a superb all-round showing as Pakistan shocked unbeaten South Africa by seven runs to storm into their second successive ICC World Twenty20 final at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, on Thursday.
The flambouyant all-rounder first hit a quick 51 from 34 deliveries to rally the team to 149 for four in their 20 overs after the loss of two early wickets, and then destroyed South Africa by dismissing Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers cheaply in successive overs, for figures of two for 16 in four overs.
The South Africans' reputation of choking in major tournaments continued. They have failed to make it to the final of any World Cup and lost four times in the semi-finals, including thrice in the 50-over World Cup.
Jacques Kallis scored 64 from 54 deliveries and JP Duminy finished unbeaten on 44 from 39 deliveries, but they rarely threatened with the bat as the Proteas were restricted to 142 for five in their 20 overs thanks to some tight bowling at the death by Umar Gul and Mohd Aamer.
The second semi-final between the West Indies and Sri Lanka is on Friday at the Oval.
Opener Kamran Akmal got Pakistan, who elected to bat, off to a flier, scoring two boundaries in the first over of the innings by Dale Steyn, both through the point region.
But it was South Africa who drew first blood in this high-profile encounter, claiming the wicket of Shahzaib Hasan for a duck in the second over. The Pakistan opener top-edged an intended pull shot off left-armer Wayne Parnell which was brilliantly held by Roelof van der Merwe, running back at mid-on. (8-1, 1.2)
But Akmal was unfazed; he hit consecutive boundaries off the next two deliveries and Shahid Afridi followed it up, slamming another one straight down the ground.
Akmal then smashed Steyn for a huge six over mid-off. However, it was the over-exuberance that cost him his wicket.
The Pakistan wicketkeeper, beaten for pace as he tried to pull Steyn, handed a simple catch to Albie Morkel at mid-on after a quick 23 from 12 deliveries. (28-2, 2.3)
The first two overs had produced 22 runs but South Africa pulled back the scoring rate, conceding ten runs off the next two. With Afridi at the crease, the pacers used the short deliveries to good effect. Pakistan 32 for two after four overs.
Afridi had seen enough of the short-pitched deliveries before he pulled Jacques Kallis for two boundaries through midwicket in the fifth over.
South Africa kept Afridi quiet for nearly five overs, denying him a boundary, till he broke the shackles with a lofted four over mid-on off van der Merwe as Pakistan reached 68 for two at the halfway stage.
The batsman then took Botha to the cleaners, hitting four consecutive boundaries in the 11th over. The first three boundaries were crashed through the cover region while the fourth one was late cut through the third man region.
Afridi completed his half-century off 33 deliveries, inclusive of eight boundaries, in the 12th over; he was now threatening to take the game away from the Proteas.
Graeme Smith then took a gamble by introducing part-timer JP Duminy; the move paid off big time with the wicket of Afridi. The Pakistan batsman, who smashed 51 from34 deliveries, tried to slog sweep Duminy but got a top edge which was taken by AB de Villiers at midwicket. (95-3, 12.1)
Shoaib Malik played second fiddle for most part of his innings while Afridi was attacking from the other end. But after his departure he looked to up the ante. He bagged his first boundary off the 30th ball he faced when he swept a full toss from van der Merwe through square leg.
In the next over, he slammed Duminy over the cover region for a boundary and Younis Khan followed it up with a reverse swept boundary three balls later as Pakistan reached a healthy 120 for three after 15 overs.
He fell in van der Merwe's next over when he lofted him straight to Botha at the long-off boundary after scoring 34 from 39 deliveries.
South Africa managed to keep things tight in the final overs as just 24 runs were scored in four without any boundaries between the 16th and 19th over.
Parnell ensured the batsmen didn't get away in the final over, conceding just five runs as Pakistan were restricted to 149 for four in their 20 overs.
Once again, van der Merwe made a significant contribution with figures of one for 29 in four overs. Duminy claimed the vital wicket of Afridi at a crucial stage in his spell of one for 14 in two overs, while Steyn took one for 28 in four overs.
South Africa must be delighted to have restricted Pakistan below 150 considering that at one stage Afridi was threatening to take the game away from them. But they will be wary of the Pakistan's in-form spin duo of Saeed Ajmal and Afridi, who can be handful on this surface.
Jacques Kallis survived a few nervy moments at the start of his innings before unleashing a delightful boundary through the covers off Abdul Razzaq in the first over. Mohammad Aamer was then greeted by Kallis with a boundary through point region and an edged boundary two balls later.
South Africa's openers kept it quite steady in the first few overs and did not try to go all out. Smith, on 8, got a life in the fifth over when Umar Gul dropped a high catch in the mid-off region off Razzaq.
Kallis then hit a boundary straight down the ground as South Africa reached 39 for no loss after five overs.
Smith's charmed life did not last long. He top-edged a pull shot and was caught by the bowler, Aamer, after a subdued 10 from 14 deliveries in the sixth over. (40-1, 5.5)
Herschelle Gibbs welcomed Afridi to the bowling crease with a boundary, but the leg-spinner had his revenge a few deliveries later.
Gibbs, who made 5, was beaten by the quicker delivery that went straight on to knock off the stumps. (46-2, 7)
In his next over, Afridi claimed another big scalp in the form of AB de Villiers, who played on to his stumps for 1. De Villiers was dropped by wicketkeeper Akmal off an outside edge the previous delivery but that did not deter Afridi, who struck a ball later. (50-3, 8.3)
Afridi had made the difference with the bat and now was making a vital contribution with the ball too. He finished with two for 16 in four overs.
South Africa were 73 for three after 13 overs, and faced a stiff task of scoring another 77 runs in the last seven overs.
With Duminy struggling to get the ball out of the park, Kallis took the onus to look for the boundaries as the run rate kept creeping up. He crashed Gul through the covers for a boundary in the 14th over and followed it up with another one and six off Fawad Alam in the next over.
That also brought up his half-century in 46 deliveries, with South Africa reaching 98 for three in 15 overs, needing 52 in the last five overs.
The 17th over, bowled by Gul, turned the tide in Pakistan's favour. The pacer dished out four unplayable yorkers, conceding just six runs to make it 39 runs from the last three overs.
The pressure paid off in the next over when Kallis holed out Ajmal straight to Malik at long-on and was dismissed for 64 from 54 deliveries, inclusive of seven boundaries and a six. (111-4, 17.1)
He added 63 runs in 51 deliveries for the fourth wicket with Duminy, but failed to produce the big shots when needed.
Though Duminy hit a boundary three deliveries later and got a leg bye boundary off the next delivery, the equation was firmly in Pakistan's favour, with 29 needed from the last two overs.
Gul continued bowling accurate yorkers in the penultimate over too, giving away just six runs, to take Pakistan to the brink of victory.
With 23 runs needed from the last over, it was just a formality, though Duminy struck a six and boundary off Mohammad Aamer.
Albie Morkel was run out for 2 as South Africa collapsed in the face of some disciplined bowling by the Pakistan bowlers in the last few overs.
South Africa could score just 142 for five in their 20 overs and lost by seven runs.
Pakistan made it to the final of the tournament for the second time.
At the halfway stage, South Africa seemed pretty confident but it was Afridi again, who turned the match around with the ball, claiming the wickets of Gibbs and de Villiers in successive overs.
Despite not having played much international cricket in the run-up to the tournament, and their players denied a chance to take part in the IPL, Pakistan made it to their second successive Twenty20 final. They proved that they are one of the best teams in this format and can never be taken lightly.