The first semi-final of the T20 World Cup throws together two teams whose experience of the competition so far could not have been more different. Where New Zealand’s thumping victory over Australia in their opening game put them instantly in control of their group, Pakistan’s presence in the final four, having lost their first two games to India and Zimbabwe, feels like a minor miracle.
For the batter Shan Masood even playing in those games was extraordinary, given that during a net session before the first he was hit full on in the head by a vicious shot from Mohammad Nawaz. “I took my helmet off, and I was walking across the nets to get some water, and then I heard someone saying, ‘Watch out!’ And before I could do anything I felt something hit my ear,” he says. “I went down, and my first thoughts were, it’s hit me really hard. I thought at least it would be a fracture or something. I was taken to hospital, but when the scan came out it was just bruising.
“Next day I was not allowed to partake in practice, but I passed every single concussion test, I was good to go. I did not have any practise before the game but I tried to reframe it. I said, ‘look, anything could have happened. I could have been in hospital. I could have been back home. But I’m actually here and I’m playing, so savour the occasion, make the most of it.’”
It was a spectacular occasion, in a sold-out and thrillingly noisy MCG. Masood scored a half-century but was so focused on his personal situation, and on his performance, that he barely took in anything else. “I can remember certain bits of it, just seeing how big the stadium was, and that it was full,” he says. “I could tell there were a lot of Pakistani supporters.”
Pakistan scored 159 and for much of India’s run chase looked certain to defend it. But an extraordinary innings from Virat Kohli, and an astonishing nine-ball, two-wicket, 16-run final over, turned the game on its head. “It took one of the best players to ever play the game to produce probably his best performance to take the game away from us,” Masood says. “That speaks volumes for how the team played. But obviously a World Cup is squeaky bum time and it’s about the result. We knew we played good cricket, but from then on we almost had to win every game.”
Instead they lost the very next one, another extraordinary encounter, by a single run to Zimbabwe. “We actually thought because we played really good cricket against India, we were going to go into this game and express ourselves,” Masood says. “When the match was done it was disbelief, about losing on the last ball again. And it takes a brave group, a group with character, to bounce back from there.”
Despite beating Netherlands and South Africa in their next two matches, the only way Pakistan could progress was to win their last game and for the Proteas to lose to the Dutch. That game was the first of a double-header in Adelaide, with Pakistan’s against Bangladesh to follow.
The South Africa game started at 10.30am. Masood followed the early overs on his phone, before the team travelled to the stadium. “Normally when you get to the ground everyone is invested in their skills and their preparation,” he says. “A lot of guys will go to the nets, a lot will go outside, do their warm-ups, get ready. People will eat. But those that went to the nets came back, they just wanted to watch the game – and the game had gotten interesting.”
Netherlands scored 158, and in their reply South Africa kept losing wickets. “There were all the different emotions that a game can put your through,” Masood says. “The same game can be life-changing in a good way for someone, but it can be detrimental to someone else. We kept watching and it was unreal, it was disbelief, because I genuinely thought South Africa were one of the best teams in the tournament.”
South Africa lost by 13 runs and Pakistan seized their chance, beating Bangladesh with 11 balls to spare, Masood scoring the winning runs. “The biggest lesson for us has been, cricket’s a great humbler, a great leveller,” he says. “Do not take anything for granted.
“We were humbled in so many ways. We lost our first two games and now we are in the semi-finals there is nothing to boast about. It is more gratitude and relief that we have another chance. It felt a bit, I never say unfair but it felt a bit weird that, yes, we made a couple of mistakes, we ended up losing two close games and we could have gone out without really getting a chance of redemption. Now we have that chance.”