Pakistan is one victory away from completing a T20 World Cup miracle.

An inspired bowling performance from Shaheen Shah Afridi and a timely masterclass from captain Babar Azam helped Pakistan topple New Zealand by seven wickets at the SCG on Wednesday evening, qualifying for the T20 World Cup final for the first time in 13 years.

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Twelve days ago, Pakistan’s campaign was in tatters. Following an unforgettable defeat against sub-continent rivals India at the MCG and a debilitating one-run loss to Zimbabwe in Perth, their chances of qualifying for the semi-finals were close to zero.

But the Pakistanis were gifted a reprieve when the Netherlands stunned South Africa in Adelaide on Sunday afternoon, an unforeseeable result that effectively made their final group stage match against Bangladesh a quarter-final.

And three days later, the men in green have booked their spot in the tournament finale.

Rapturous Pakistani fans danced, chanted and drummed outside the SCG gates before the toss, while Central Station’s light rail station was crammed with South Asian cricket supporters.

The semi-final started in dramatic circumstances, with Pakistan paceman Afridi trapping Black Caps opener Finn Allen on the pads with his third delivery of the evening, only for the decision to be overturned after DRS replays showed an inside edge.

But the left-hander produced replica the following delivery, with his hooping in-swinger slapping into Allen’s front pad and prompting chants of “Afridi” around the venue – a review couldn’t save the Kiwi on this occasion.

“He set the tone,” Azam said of Afridi after the match.

“Now everyone knows he‘s the best bowler in Pakistan – and the world.”

A huge turning point came at the end of the Powerplay when Pakistan all-rounder Shadab Khan nailed a direct hit from mid-off to send Black Caps opener Devon Conway packing for 21.

New Zealand was suddenly in a spot of bother at 3/49 when the dangerous Glenn Phillips, who scored a century at the SCG last month, chipped a return catch to spinner Mohammad Nawaz in the eighth over.

The Kiwis only mustered 59 runs on the worn SCG deck before the drinks break with skipper Kane Williamson steadying the ship in the middle overs.

Williamson and Daryl Mitchell revived the innings, combining for a 68-run partnership for the fourth wicket before Shah (2/24 from four overs) knocked over the New Zealand captain in the 17th over.

Mitchell (53 not out off 35 balls) brought up his third T20I fifty in the penultimate over, reaching the minor milestone in just 32 deliveries as the Kiwis registered a defendable, but underwhelming 152/4.

“I thought New Zealand was a little bit timid, to be honest,” former Australian batter Callum Ferguson said on Channel 9.

“They were timid and they‘ve been punished tonight by a Pakistan side that has serious momentum now, they are looking every bit the champions.”

Pakistan captain Babar Azam and opening partner Mohammad Rizwan got the run chase off to an explosive start, smacking 55 runs during the Powerplay to send a scare through the New Zealand camp.

Azam, who has endured an uncharacteristically poor run of form during this tournament, and Rizwan proved why they’re considered the most intimidating opening partnership in world cricket, repeatedly finding gaps in the offside before lofting into open space at deep mid-wicket.

Every boundary was met with ear-piercing roars from the crowd, with countless Pakistan flags emerging from the vibrant sea of green.

At one point in the run chase, Rizwan was forced to ask a Pakistan supporter to stop waving his flag behind the bowler’s arm at the northern end.

The introduction of spin in the seventh over stemmed the flow of runs, but New Zealand tweakers Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi couldn’t unearth a much-needed breakthrough.

As the required net run rate continued to drop after the drinks break, New Zealand’s bowling and fielding dipped in quality as well.

Azam (53 off 42 balls) and Rizwan (57 off 43 balls) brought up their eighth T20I century partnership in the 12th over, doubling the tally for the next best pairing in world cricket.

The Pakistan skipper’s onslaught came to a halt in the 13th over, caught at the long-on boundary off Trent Boult’s bowling for 53 – but the damage had been done.

Countless Kiwi heads dropped when Santner put down a chance at point in the 16th over, all but sealing New Zealand’s fate.

Boult snared the prized wicket of Rizwan in the 17th over, albeit with a waist-high full toss, but young gun Mohammad Haris steered the Pakistanis home with five balls to spare.

Most century opening partnerships in men‘s T20Is

8 – Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan (PAK)

4 – Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma (IND)

4 – Aaron Finch, David Warner (AUS)

4 – KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma (IND)

“Tonight was very special,” Pakistan batting coach Matthew Hayden said after the match.

“Everyone will talk about Babar and Rizwan, but that bowling attack did an unbelievable job.

“Sky is the limit and both of these guys have done it for Pakistan for a number of years.”

Meanwhile, New Zealand has for a fifth consecutive World Cup qualified for the finals without lifting the trophy.

“We‘ve played in a number of different finals and put out really good performances – probably good enough to win and either got met by a side that played a little bit better or played about equal,” Williamson told reporters in the post-match press conference.

“You accept some of those things. The frustrating part about today is that we weren‘t quite on top of our game.

“There will be some reflection. It’s still raw. You’ve got to use these lessons to get better as a side and as an individual.”

Pakistan will face either England or India in the T20 World Cup final at the SCG on Sunday evening, with the first ball scheduled for 7pm AEDT.

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