India clinch low-scoring thriller
India 137 for 9 (Aparajith 51, Zia-ul-Haq 3-23, Azizullah 3-30) beat Pakistan 136 (Azam 50, Sandeep 3-24, Ravikant 3-43) by one wicket
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Harmeet Singh and Sandeep Sharma, India's Nos. 8 and 11, batted with incredible composure for seven overs to score the ten runs they needed to drag a misfiring batting line-up to a one-wicket victory against Pakistan in the quarter-final of the Under-19 World Cup. India were cruising one minute, at 120 for 5 needing 17 more, and were sinking the next, at 127 for 9. Harmeet and Sharma, however, saw to it that their consistent excellence with the ball in this tournament - they dismissed Pakistan so cheaply - was not in vain.
It so nearly was, though. Needing only 137 to secure a place in Thursday's semi-final, India slipped to 8 for 3 in the chase. They needed one batsman to drop anchor and stay the course and their No. 3, Baba Aparajith, did that. He had a partnership of 68 for the fourth wicket with Vijay Zol that put India on course. Aparajith went on to score 51 and, with him batting so fluently, India moved slowly but surely towards their target. The required rate was never an issue; wickets were, but five were in hand.
Then Aparajith drove one in the air and was caught at cover, with India 17 short. In no time at all Smit Patel edged Ehsan Adil to the wicketkeeper and Azizullah dismissed two more batsmen in the 41st over. Only one more Indian wicket stood between Pakistan and victory.
Harmeet, who missed India's last two league games because of an illness but replaced Vikas Mishra today, took charge. Sharma batted cautiously, blocking out an entire over from the spinner Zafar Gohar. Harmeet, the more competent batsman, was astute enough to see off Azizullah's final over, which meant Babar Azam had no more seam options to call on.
Runs came at Chinese water-torture pace, but the batsmen were unruffled. Harmeet and Sandeep blocked and blocked, and occasionally they dabbed for a single or two. Every ball survived was cheered by a small but vocal group of Indian supporters. Even when the target was within the reach of one lofted blow and all the fielders were in the circle, Sandeep did not do anything rash. He left it to Harmeet, who eventually chipped over square leg, ran the second run and then ran into 13 team-mates sprinting towards him.
As Sharma joined in the celebrations, he could have scarcely believed that it had come to this, especially after the hammer blow he had hit Pakistan with early in the morning. Most teams have preferred to bowl first at Tony Ireland Stadium but Pakistan chose to bat on an overcast and drizzly day in Townsville - a brave approach considering it was their first game here and batting has been hardest in the morning. Their decision backfired.
Sharma, who has swung the new ball both ways prodigiously in every game, struck with the first delivery of the match. He bowled a good length and pitched on legstump, drawing the left-hand opener Sami Aslam into the front-foot defence. Sharma got the ball to swing sharply just outside off and hit the edge, giving Aparajith a regulation catch at second slip. Four balls later, the same thing happened to Imam-ul-Haq, another left-hand batsman. Pakistan were 0 for 2.
Barely five minutes had passed since the start, so Pakistan's No. 4 Umar Waheed wasn't fully padded up. He and the other opener, the captain Babar Azam, had a monumental repair job to do and they began it with composure. But Sharma and India's other new-ball bowler, Kamal Passi, were there and thereabouts all the time, and Pakistan were 27 for 2 after ten overs.
Harmeet came on in the 15th over and caused a stir immediately. His first ball hit Umar Waheed on the pad and the lbw appeal was turned down, after which Waheed could have been run out had Smit Patel hit the stumps. Waheed appeared shaken and Azam went up to him to have a word. The next ball from Harmeet was lofted towards the midwicket boundary.
Ravikant had a patchy first four overs, bowling several wides, but began to wreck Pakistan's innings in his fifth. He got Waheed to edge behind, and in his next over he bowled Saad Ali and had Salman Afridi caught behind as well. Harmeet had Mohammad Nawaz caught at slip soon after. Pakistan had lost 4 for 7 to slip to 62 for 6.
Through all this, Azam had batted with concentration, holding his end up as wickets tumbled at the other. He was dropped on 36, though, by Harmeet, soon after a rain interruption. Aparajith ensured that error didn't cost India too many, having Azam caught at midwicket soon after his half-century. The batsman was distraught, having been dismissed to a tame chip after battling through tougher times.
Pakistan were 99 for 8 after a second rain break and Adil hit four sixes to lift them to 136. Two of those were massive blows, clearing the longest boundary at midwicket and then the sight screen. India's seamers, however, came back to finish the innings off, Sharma picking up the tenth wicket with the first ball of the 46th over.
A couple of hours later, Sharma was in the middle again, striving to prevent India's tenth wicket from falling. The gut-wrenching end was the third such finish between India and Pakistan's Under-19 teams this year. In an Asia Cup league game, Pakistan had won by one run. The final of that tournament was tied. The third time, it was India that scraped through by the narrowest of margins.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo