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Pakistan prepare for the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2014 final against South Africa at Dubai. Nishad Pai Vaidya caught up with skipper Sami Aslam on the eve of the final. Aslam is one of the four members of the current squad that featured during the last World Cup, where they lost to India by a heart-breaking margin of one wicket.
Four members of the current Pakistan team were a part of the side that lost to India in the quarter-final of the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2012 in Townsville, Australia. Sami Aslam, Imam-ul-Haq, Zia-ul-Haq and Zafar Gohar experienced the agony of losing the contest against the arch-rivals by a mere one wicket. But, nearly two years on, they prepare for the final of the tournament, against South Africa. They may have lost to India in the league phase, but wouldn’t mind that as they have made it all the way to the final.
Skipper Aslam remembers the quarter-final quite clearly and is eager to change history. It was that defeat that motivated his side he claims as they prepare for the big clash on the eve of the final at Dubai. “We are very motivated because of that World Cup. We got a lot of experience. The loss in the quarter-final did hurt, but now we are feeling good as we have done better this time. I also got responsibility as a captain and hopefully we take the final,” Aslam says.
It would be appropriate to say that Aslam has led from the front. The left-hander is particularly strong on the front-foot and is quite gracious when he puts his foot forwards and defends one back to the bowler. The top order has been critical to Pakistan’s performance this time. Imam and Aslam have scored 612 runs between then and that shows how reliant they have been on those two. But, they were tested in the semi-final against England, where the tail had to come to their rescue. In the four-day gap between the semi and the final, Pakistan have focused on their batting. Aslam says, “Yes definitely. Two or three players played a few bad shots in the crucial game. But, the middle order, then Zafar Gohar and Amad Butt played very well. Hopefully, the batsmen click in the final.”
Pakistan would need their batsmen to fire. After Imam’s 370 runs and Aslam’s 242, Hasan Raza is next with 135. Saud Shakeel and Ameer Hamza showed that they can play a cool hand and Kamran Ghulam is also a good option. Thus, they have the firepower, one that needs to gel as a unit going into the final. It won’t be easy as South Africa have a good bowling attack, led by the pace sensation Kagiso Rabada. The onus has been on the top order and their responsibility manifolds in this summit clash.
But, having said that, the question is: Win the toss and bat or bowl first? In the games at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, the teams batting first have often struggled to get going and the signs were ominous leading into the semis. Yet, Aiden Markram won the toss and chose to bat; backing the decision with a 105-run stand with Clyde Fortuin. Thus, Pakistan will also be formulating their major plans in the lead-up with regards to the toss of the coin. Aslam believes it is a very even wicket, with enough for all departments.
“The wicket is supporting seamers, the spin bowlers are also getting good grip. In my opinion, it is supporting everyone. It isn’t exactly a batting wicket as the batsmen have to put in an effort to put up a good score on the board,” says Aslam. Thus, it is all about application in this game as the batsmen have to get in to have a serious shot at a big target. A score of 220-230 has been a par score here in this tournament and whenever teams have chased it down, they haven’t done it without hiccups.
In that regard, Pakistan’s spinners will play a huge role in this game. Gohar, Ghulam and Karamat Ali are the main men and they will have a big part to play in the middle overs. If South Africa bat first, they have to tie them down in the middle so that they don’t rush to a big score. And, if they are defending a total, Pakistan need these men to strike at crucial intervals. When asked about the spinner’s importance to Pakistan’s cause, Aslam said, “Yes. Our spinners have performed very well in the whole tournament. So we will mainly rely on our spinners. But, even our fast-bowlers are bowling very well. So, we will back the same strategy.”
But, coming into such a big game, it is all about holding one’s nerves and backing your plans. These are young boys after all and it is their first taste of a big game on the world stage. A victory would certainly leave an indelible mark in their cricketing CV. “All the boys are very confident. The way we have been playing so far and giving our 100 percent, god willing, we give our 100 percent in the final and win,” Aslam assured.
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