Narrow loss very disappointing - Azam
Pakistan came within one wicket of compensating for a calamitous batting performance in the Under-19 World Cup quarter-final against India. They will now begin the contest for fifth place by playing West Indies on August 22.
Having travelled north from Brisbane to Townsville, Pakistan were playing at the Tony Ireland Stadium for the first time. It had rained in the early hours of Monday and the skies were overcast. Yet, unlike most sides when playing strong bowling attacks at this venue, Pakistan chose to bat after winning the toss.
The first hour has often yielded several wickets. England were 61 for 4 against Australia, and India were 50 for 4 against West Indies. Pakistan were 0 for 2 in the first over today.
"We've been batting well [in the World Cup], so we'd thought we'd bat first, make 250," Babar Azam, the Pakistan captain, said when asked why he did not choose to bowl. "But that did not happen, early on the boys played some bad shots and we got out for a low score - we made 136."
The first two wickets weren't to bad balls or bad shots though. Sandeep Sharma's swing from leg to off stump made the left-handers Sami Aslam and Iman-ul-Haq play and edge to second slip. The duty of stablising the innings was left to Azam.
"When two wickets fell, I just decided to play carefully and try and take the team towards 250," he said. "But I couldn't do it, when I got to 50 I played a loose shot and got out."
Having seen off the more potent threats from India's seamers, Azam had just brought up his half-century when he chipped an offbreak from Baba Aparajith straight to Unmukt Chand at midwicket, the softest of shots.
"We thought if we made 150-160 we could beat India, we had that much confidence in our bowling," Azam said. "Our score was too low, but we still managed to take it until the final overs."
Defending 137, Azam's confidence in his bowlers was not misplaced. The first wicket to fall - Chand for a duck - was via a spectacular catch on the backward point boundary and every fielder and substitute ran towards Ehsan Adil to congratulate him. Two edges were caught in quick succession. After five overs Pakistan had India at 8 for 3.
"In the first five overs we dismissed three batsmen. I thought we could make a comeback," Azam said. "There was a partnership and at the time we thought the game was slipping. But again the boys came back and we tried really hard."
India recovered through a partnership between Aparajith and Vijay Zol, but just when an Indian win seemed an inevitability, Pakistan claimed 4 for 7 to reduce India to 127 for 9. The next seven overs were fraught with tension as India's last pair successfully toiled towards the target. "When the boys came back, and nine batsmen were out, we thought we could win the match," Azam said. "The bowlers gave 100% but it didn't happen. Sandeep Sharma and Harmeet Singh played really well.
"We're very disappointed. We had confidence against India, having played them in the Asia Cup - one match was tied and the other we won. When seven runs were remaining, we thought we could get the last wicket and win. When two runs were remaining, everyone was a bit down. A lot of us were very tense out there."
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo