Markram hails 'spectacular' Rabada
On Wednesday, there were no frenzied celebrations that had highlighted the first semi-final at the Dubai International Stadium. Because South Africa had it all too easy in the end.
Australia's response to 230 may have been tepid, losing by 80 runs in a one-sided second semi-final, but there was nothing tepid about the way South Africa went about their job. Kagiso Rabada, one of the fastest bowlers in the competition, was at the top of his game, using his pace and bounce to befuddle Australia before they could size up the conditions in their chase. He ended with 6 for 25, the best figures in the competition to date and his captain Aiden Markram termed his spell as 'spectacular'.
"It was spectacular," Markram said. "When you have someone like him in your armoury, especially when he is as pumped up and as motivated as today. Today's performance was awesome and the cherry on top for all the work that he has done prior to the tournament. It is good that it paid off, and I am over the moon for him."
Rabada used the short ball to fetch three of his wickets, including his first, in his third over. Matthew Short tried to hook but ended up edging to the keeper. The next two claimed lower-order wickets but his length wasn't one-dimensional. He cranked up the pace when he bowled fuller lengths and one of them snuck through Damien Mortimer's defenses and the other found the stumps off an inside edge off Jaron Morgan. Both batsmen were beaten for pace, with speeds averaging close to 90mph. At the U-19 level, it's a scary prospect for any batsman.
Rabada, who sat next to Markram at the post-match presentation, cut a relaxed figure, giving the impression that he had just bowled out a club side. He said that while it was good to toast this victory, the job was not yet done, with the final around the corner.
"We can acknowledge the good performances, but it is important to have your feet on your ground. I am a relaxed guy," Rabada said. "It has not anything to do with cricket, it is just me. I and my team think that it is not over till it's over."
Rabada introduced himself to the world with a similar opening spell against West Indies at the start of the tournament. He was rested against Canada and brought back for the knockouts. The Dubai pitch has suited him the best and Pakistan will be wary of him in the final.
While Rabada took the final honours, the contributions by Markram himself and Clyde Fortuin were no less significant. For a change, the team batting first in Dubai didn't wobble. Markram and Fortuin showed that with the right application and patience, it was possible to add a century opening stand on the same pitch. Wayward bowling by Australia, giving away eight wides and a no ball in the first 15 overs, helped.
"It (the collapses) was not a comforting stat, but we came here knowing that, and backed ourselves to execute our plans well," Markram said. "It (extras) helped. With it we could be a bit more circumspective with how we played. On this deck, the new ball does go around early on. So, the plan was to have good compact position early on and kick it on at the end."
Markram said that despite their start, it wasn't the easiest wicket to bat on. "At times, the wicket was a bit two-paced. Sometimes, you could hit through the line and over the top, and the next one you would have thought you are there but you are not," he said. "We would have taken 230, but with the start and we played in the middle overs, we would have wanted a bit more."
The Australian spinners did well to pull things back after South Africa were going at five an over in the first 30 overs. South Africa salvaged only 12 runs from their batting Powerplay. South Africa too started with spin, with the offspinner Dirk Bruwer bowling 10 economical overs for just 32 runs. Markram said the ploy of opening with spin wasn't hatched during the innings break.
"It was the plan before the game. But the fact that the Australian spinners did well with the ball only added to why he should open with spin. Although it didn't strike a wicket, it helped us get through the overs quickly and just push that (required) rate up to five early on."
The Australia captain Alex Gregory admitted that his wicket was untimely, when Australia were building a stand after losing three wickets. He said it was a collective failure and gave South Africa their due.
"Each batsman should take it upon himself to keep pushing the scoring," Gregory said. "I just didn't execute as well as possible. The South Africans were very attacking and disciplined so it was a bit hard to score out there."
Australia will face England in the third place playoff on Friday.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo