Sarfraz Ahmed and Anwar Ali with the Under-19 World Cup trophy
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As has traditionally been the case with Pakistan, it was left to their bowling attack to make up for their batsmen's failings and conjure up a remarkable triumph in the final of the Under-19 World Cup against India in Colombo. Having been bowled out for a measly 109, the right-arm, left-arm pace combination of Anwar Ali and Jamshed Ahmed, decimated a strong Indian batting line-up for only 71.
Seven wickets in the final, including six inside the first four overs, and 29 wickets between them through the tournament ensured they made up for an early loss to Bangladesh as well as only two fifties from their batsmen in the entire tournament. Ahmed, who took a wicket with the first ball of the Indian innings, said the start was crucial. "Me and Anwar just told our batsmen before the game began that we wanted a minimum total of 150 to defend. If we got that we were confident we could defend it. Even when we got out for 109, we thought we could do it if we got a couple of their batsmen out early." He added, "Although the Indian batting was strong, only two or three of their batsmen scored in the tournament so we knew once we got them, we could run through the others."
Ahmed, from Lahore, is one of the few in the squad who has played at first-class level. Unsurprisingly, given that he bowls left-arm, Wasim Akram's name hasn't been too far away. "Obviously he is a huge idol because he was such a great bowler. To be honest, I didn't know I had a similar run-up and action until I was told by a couple of the officials there. They were ex-internationals and said I reminded them a little of him."
Of his partnership with Ali, Ahmed said, "I had never met him before we played U-19 but we hit it off immediately. I enjoy sharing the new ball with him and hopefully we can both open the bowling for Pakistan in the future."
It wouldn't be unreasonable then to expect Ali - the tournament's second-highest wicket-taker with 15 - to name Waqar Younis as his idol, given the impact the two Ws made on young men through Pakistan. Surprisingly, though, he chooses Umar Gul as his role model. "I met him when he was working at the National Cricket Academy last year on his back injury and I watched him bowl a lot. I watch a lot of his videos and it's not because he is a Pathan but because he is a good bowler."
Ali is not unlike Gul physically; tall, thin and a little gawky. And despite being based in Karachi, he is, like Gul, originally a Pathan. And like his idol, he too took to cricket with a hard ball, late. "I played only tape ball cricket till last year. I joined the Customs Academy eventually and was given great help by (former Test pacer and current coach) Jalaluddin." At the NCA, he was like many others, given invaluable assistance from Aaquib Javed. "He really put in a lot of effort with me, with my run-up, my action and my seam position."
Another mid-90s superstar - wicketkeeper and captain Moin Khan - had an impact on the career of Sarfraz Ahmed, the U-19 captain. Like Moin, Sarfraz is also a wicketkeeper and was touted after the tournament by coach Mansoor Rana as a future potential captain for Pakistan. "I have grown up watching Moin Khan and really like the way he plays and keeps. I want to emulate his achievements. Leading the side was a huge challenge but an enjoyable one," he said. "A lot of people came to watch the final and supported us. We were shocked after we lost the Bangladesh game but we rallied really well after that."
Although he didn't score too many runs - 64 in four innings - Sarfraz picked up 15 dismissals. And, with unwitting irony, he dedicated the victory to the Pakistan senior team. "We were all disappointed to learn that our senior team had lost the ODI series. We all said before the final we would try our best to win the tournament to make up for the loss."
Two years ago, Pakistan's first U-19 title win in Bangladesh had also been built on their bowlers; Riaz Afridi, Tariq Mahmood and Mansoor Amjad took 53 wickets with a combination of pace and spin and made up for a lack of batting heroes. Only Afridi from that group has played Test cricket while Amjad, Khalid Latif, Zulqernain Haider have hovered around the national squad without being selected. With plans to fast-track the current team by involving them in the forthcoming Twenty20 Cup and next season's Quaid-e-Azam trophy, Pakistan will hope more players can graduate from this group to the national squad.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo