West Indies aim for another surprise
The two teams confronted differing expectations in the lead-up to this tournament. Pakistan had won the championship twice and finished runners-up once. Keeping with the trend in their country to pick cricketers young, a fair number of players had experienced the first-class and the List A levels. They were among the frontrunners for the title and haven't disappointed, giving their fans something to cheer about in harrowing times, with the timely high of a thrilling win against India which knocked the defending champions out.
In preparation for this tournament, discounting the warm-ups, West Indies had limited exposure to the one-day format in the KFC Cup as a part of the ongoing domestic season. Unlike several other teams, they played no international cricket in 2009. Little was known about them outside the Caribbean. A victory in the Plate championship in the 2008 edition by their predecessors meant expectations from the new lot were measured. But they have exceeded them and repaid the faith of their selectors, who, a month earlier, had backed them to win. "I can see them going all the way. This team is better balanced than two years ago when we went to Malaysia and won the Plate Final," Clyde Butts, the West Indies Cricket Board's chairman of selectors, had said. Now they are just two games away from meeting their objective.
Pakistan's unblemished progress to the semis and their familiarity with the conditions at Lincoln, the venue for the game, hands them a significant advantage. They beat West Indies by a convincing margin in their first game of the tournament, and overcame testing conditions - on a large ground with the ball swinging around and the boundaries elusive - in Lincoln in the rain-affected quarter-final to edge past India.
West Indies' advance in the tournament has been rugged. Two hair-raising thrillers, and Bangladesh's newly-acquired choking disorder, settled their place in the knockouts. They beat Bangladesh by one run in the league phase and watched them squander a last-over victory against a Mohammad Waqas-inspired Pakistan, a result that gave West Indies a backdoor entry into the business end of the competition. Keen to cash in on the good fortune, fast bowler Jason Holder dismantled the England batting line-up to seal an 18-run win in a low-scoring quarterfinal encounter.
The teams have had their share of individual successes. Openers Babar Azam and Kraigg Brathwaite are the two highest scorers in the competition. Allrounder Hammad Azam has been extremely handy in the death overs, helping his team to two tight wins with the bat, while Fayyaz Butt's genuine ability to swing and extract movement off the pitch has contributed to his staggering average of 12.14 for his seven wickets. Holder has been West Indies' saviour with the ball. A solitary wicket, that of half-centurion Tasnamul Haque, came in that crucial last over against Bangladesh and, as a possible prelude to the favourable conditions in the semi-final, a five-for against England brought his team within striking distance of the summit.
Unlike the senior World Cup, there are fewer barriers to scale in the youth version. The title-winners would have to play six games to win the competition, as opposed to 11 in the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean; the relatively fewer steps to the big prize offer a greater potential for surprises. While Pakistan remain favourites, the team they helped reach the knockout stage by upstaging Bangladesh will find backers.
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo