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Kanishkaa Balachandran in Dubai
February 28, 2014
Match factsMarch 1, 2014
Series/Tournaments: ICC Under-19 World Cup
Big PictureWhen South Africa Under-19s coach Ray Jennings spoke before the World Cup began, he got one prediction right and another wrong. He was confident his team would make the final, which they have. He also expected to meet India in it. He was wrong on that count. Their opponents are Pakistan, two-time winners of the U-19 World Cup and practically on 'home' turf in the UAE. The defending champions India being knocked out in the quarters hasn't devalued the rest of the tournament by any means for the final promises a close contest between two good bowling sides.
It's been a bowlers' tournament and the player Pakistan will be keeping an eye on is Kagiso Rabada. He was at his optimum best against Australia in the semi-final with 6 for 25 and had rattled West Indies at the start of the tournament. Rabada's strength is raw pace and bounce and his impact has been all the more telling because he has felled teams that would have faced bowlers of his speed in the nets back home on bouncier pitches. Pakistan's batsmen would have faced raw quicks back at home too, but doing so in a tournament final is a different story.
Rabada's their quickest and their other seam options include Justin Dill and Corbin Bosch, slower in pace but effective. The captain Aiden Markram called Dill a "clever cricketer" who can "assess batsmen quickly." Yaseen Valli's left-arm spin lends variety and the South African attack appears better all-round. Markram too has been leading from the front with two centuries at the top.
Pakistan's strength is spin, with their duo of Karamat Ali and Zafar Gohar expected to be a threat on a used pitch in Dubai. Zia-ul-Haq leads the pace attack and it was his accuracy that stood out in the semi-final against England.
Pakistan have been powered by strong starts by their openers Sami Aslam and Imam-ul-Haq, who have added stands of 109, 125 and 177 in this tournament. However, their middle order hasn't been tested as much and could be exposed if the top order has a rare failure, like in the semi-final. It came down to Gohar and Amad Butt to cover the slack. While it reflected the team's depth, the middle order would want to step up.
South Africa have never won an U-19 World Cup and their only world title remains the ICC knockout in 1998 in Bangladesh. Having not dropped a single game so far, a defeat in the final will bring up the dreaded 'chokers' tag. Though it's a tag that has been used time and again with the senior team, Markram said the juniors could do their bit to get rid of that dubious honour. "The tag is unfortunate with the senior team," he said. "But it really hasn't fazed us, in fact it motivates us to we can get rid of that name from our country."
Road to final
South Africa - beat West Indies by 94 runs, beat Canada by 45 runs, beat Zimbabwe by seven wickets, beat Afghanistan by nine wickets (quarter-final), Australia by 80 runs (semi-final)
Pakistan - lost to India by 40 runs, beat PNG by 145 runs, beat Scotland by 146 runs, beat Sri Lanka by 121 runs (quarter-final), beat England by three wickets (semi-final)
Players to watch
Yaseen Valli has been one of the standout allrounders in the tournament, with 239 runs including century and nine wickets in five games. Valli bats in the middle order and has shown maturity in rescuing the side when in trouble. He can also be relied upon with innovative hitting late in the innings, as he showed against West Indies and Australia. Valli had captained the side before the tournament and has been of assistance to Markram. "He plays a massive leadership role as well," Markram said. He is a calm and composed guy and not a lot affects him. He is a guy we back when there is a bit of panic in the group."
Karamat Ali has been Pakistan's most consistent bowler in the tournament, with 11 wickets in five games with an economy rate of just 3.82. The legspinner has picked up wickets in every game, with a best of 5 for 36 against Scotland. He has played all his U-19 internationals in the UAE and is more than familiar with the conditions. Given that the spinners have been difficult to get away in Dubai, his role will be crucial in tightening up one end, even if the wickets don't come.
Imam injured his hamstring while batting during the semi-final but Aslam sounded optimistic about the left-hander's availability after he had batted in the nets and was assessed by the doctor. Pakistan will need him to be fit since he's their leading run-scorer.
Pakistan Under-19s (likely) 1 Sami Aslam (capt), 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Hasan Raza, 4 Saud Shakeel, 5 Kamran Ghulam, 6 Ameer Hamza, 7 Saifullah Khan (wk), 8 Zafar Gohar, 9 Amad Butt, 10 Karamat Ali, 11 Zia-ul-Haq
Markram didn't hint at team changes though it remains to be seen if they will play the extra spinner in Dirk Bruwer, who was miserly when opening the bowling against Australia.
South Africa Under-19s (likely) 1 Aiden Markram (capt), 2 Clyde Fortuin (wk), 3 Kirwin Christoffels, 4 Greg Oldfield, 5 Corbin Bosch, 6 Yaseen Valli, 7 Bradley Dial, 8 Jason Smith, 9 Dirk Bruwer, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Justin Dill
Stats and trivia
"We have practiced a lot of fielding. Because of it, our fielding was excellent in the last two or three matches."
"We don't have any superstars in our team. We don't have any first-class players and I think that works to our favour because each day is a new chance for another individual to take responsibility and win us games."
Aiden Markram on what makes his team click
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Kanishkaa Balachandran
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