The first marquee clash of the Under-19 World Cup went India's way in Dubai, thanks to their middle-order reliability and all-round ability. Sarfaraz Khan's 74 was crucial in getting India to a competitive 262, and if that wasn't enough, his four catches and a wicket, and Deepak Hooda's five-wicket haul ensured that Pakistan didn't have an inch of clawing back, despite a steady beginning to the chase. After losing both their warm-ups, India finally hit their straps when it mattered against their toughest opponents in the group.
Despite the final victory margin of 40 runs, the defending champions were tested. Contrasting half-centuries by Sarfaraz and Sanju Samson rescued India from frittering away an aggressive start. Their stand of 119 was the difference between a below-par total and a competitive one on a second-day Dubai pitch that turned and required concentration from the batsmen.
At 94 for 4 in the 20th over, India looked in danger of folding up for less than 262, until Samson and Sarfaraz began the rescue act. It was a partnership that played out in two gears. Both took their time to size up the conditions, assess the situation and act accordingly. Both paced their innings differently. While Samson dropped anchor and ensured one end remained steady, Sarfaraz was given the licence to look for boundaries.
And Sarfaraz didn't restrain himself. He compulsively swept the spinners and was largely successful in finding the gaps. After remaining scoreless for his first 15 deliveries and surviving a dropped chance at slip, he traded the bat for a broom. His first scoring shot was a sweep off the left-arm spinner Zafar Gohar and he continued finding spaces on the on side against all four spinners. He had a close call, though, when he miscued a slog that dropped in front of deep square leg.
The long boundaries meant that the pair was kept busy with the singles. Samson had earlier infused life into the innings when he charged the legspinner Karamat Ali and launched him over long-on. From then on, he was content at grafting his way through, giving Sarfaraz the option to play his shots without worry. Following that six in the 24th over, Samson's next boundary came in the 38th, when he lofted Zia-ul-Haq over cover. Sarfaraz brought up his fifty with a six over long-on, off Zia. He had made up for his slow start, needing just 60 balls for his landmark.
The batting Powerplay was a productive period for India, as both players used their feet against the spinners to loft inside out over the covers to take 36 runs off that block of overs. Pakistan finally had a breakthrough when Sarfaraz mis-hit Gohar over cover and was caught. Samson too was caught, off a top edge and when the pair had departed, India were at a more secure 229 for 6 after 45.1 overs. That helped India pass 250, which in these conditions could prove to be challenging as the tournament progresses.
Some tight bowling by India's opening bowlers kept the Pakistan openers on a leash. Pakistan's first boundary came in the ninth over, off the left-arm seamer Chama Milind, and a few boundaries down the ground helped the openers, Sami Aslam and Imam-ul-Haq, find their groove. They focused on building steadily, looking to set a foundation. Aslam looked comfortable against the spinners and reached his fifty with a slogged four off Kuldeep Yadav.
They took the score to 109 in the 24th over and appeared in a more favourable position. The offspinner Aamer Gani got the first breakthrough when Imam gave the charge and found Sarfaraz at long-off. Though the pace of the partnership wasn't electric, India looked desperate for a wicket and Sarfaraz's celebration was an indication of relief, having finally broken through.
The biggest blow to Pakistan, though, was Aslam's departure. Having primed himself for batting through the innings, he set off from the non-striker's end for a risky single, turned back but couldn't beat Vijy Zol's throw from the off side. Suddenly, Pakistan had two new batsmen at the crease but were still very much in the game, with a required rate of 6.12.
A series of mistakes contributed to Pakistan's slide. Hasan Raza stayed back to a delivery from Sarfaraz that kept low and was bowled. Two balls later, Kamran Ghulam was struggling to make his ground to the bowler's end and was run-out off a direct hit. Bizarrely, the bowler Sarfaraz had accidentally knocked off one bail with his arm before collecting the throw but to his luck, Hooda's throw knocked down the other bail and Ghulam was deemed run-out.
Pakistan lacked a power hitter in the lower order to get them going with the asking rate. Hooda ran through the lower order as they looked to hit out.
Pakistan had their moments in both innings where they took control. But they failed to sustain it long enough and Aslam conceded that his side should not have let the initiative slip in the chase. "We were in a very good position while we were chasing and we should never have lost the game from there," Aslam said.