|| AFP ||
Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam slammed half centuries as Pakistan powered past New Zealand by seven wickets and into the Twenty20 World Cup final Wednesday, moving within one win of a second title.
They will meet either England or India -– who play on Thursday in Adelaide -- in the November 13 decider at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Pakistan set the tone at the Sydney Cricket Ground with some razor sharp fielding and disciplined bowling that restricted New Zealand to just 152-4.
In front of 36,443 strongly pro-Pakistan spectators, Rizwan (57) and Azam (53) took apart the Black Caps' renowned bowling attack in a 105-run opening stand, and despite a nervous finish after both fell, they completed a deserved victory with five balls to spare.
Pakistan last claimed the title in 2009 at Lord's in England when they beat Sri Lanka by eight wickets, and it has been a rollercoaster ride in Australia to make another final.
After agonising last-ball losses to India and Zimbabwe in the group phase, they bounced back to topple the Netherlands and South Africa. Then against the odds they went through when the Proteas were stunned by the Dutch and Pakistan eased past Bangladesh.
New Zealand, who topped Group 1, were aiming to make the final for the second consecutive time, but their hunt for a maiden T20 title again fell short.
Teams batting first had won five from six games played in Sydney this tournament and when Kane Williamson won the toss he had no hesitation in asking Pakistan to bowl, but it proved to be tough going.
Azam hits form
In an eventful opening over, Finn Allen hit Shaheen Afridi for four off the first delivery then was given out the next ball lbw.
It was overturned on review because of an inside edge only for Afridi to promptly do the same again and this time it was plumb.
Devon Conway and Williamson steadied the ship but some fine fielding restricted them in the six-over powerplay, where only two fielders are allowed outside the 30-yard circle.
It included the spectacular run out of Conway for 21 by Shadab Khan, who scored a direct hit from mid-off.
They suffered another big blow when danger man Glenn Phillips was caught and bowled by Mohammad Nawaz for six.
Daryl Mitchell and Williamson began taking more risks after the 10-over mark with the first six coming in the 13th over.
Williamson was undone on 46 by an Afridi yorker after a knock that yielded only two boundaries before Mitchell, unbeaten on 53, and Jimmy Neesham, who scored 16, added 29 runs in the final three overs.
Pakistan skipper Azam, who was desperate for runs after making just 39 in five matches before the semi-final, was dropped first ball by wicketkeeper Conway off Trent Boult in the reply.
But after his nervy start he hammered a four off Boult and partner Rizwan also helped himself to two boundaries in a costly 15-run over for New Zealand.
They plundered more boundaries off Tim Southee in another 15-run over, racing to 55-0 from the powerplay.
Azam brought up his half-century before New Zealand got a glimmer of hope when he was caught in the deep off Boult and the same bowler then removed Rizwan.
But Mohammad Haris (30) and Shan Masood (3 not out) kept their nerve to steer them home.