Zafar Gohar anchored the innings towards the end for Pakistan © Getty Images (File Photo)
By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Dubai: Feb 24, 2014
As the sun set on the Dubai coastline, Pakistan celebrated their entry into the final of the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2014. A good disciplined performance by the bowlers ensured that they restricted England to 204 — not the biggest but one that has proved to be competitive in this tournament. However, Pakistan stuttered, huffed and puffed, but ultimately their eight wicket stand got them there. This is the fifth time they have made it to the Under-19 World Cup final. An unbeaten 63-run stand between Zafar Gohar (37 not out) and Amad Butt (26 not out).
There was an unpredictable ebb and flow of momentum during the Pakistan run-chase. There were phases where Pakistan dominated and England were in a spot, but in the end, Pakistan prevailed in a battle of nerves. In many ways, it was similar to England’s run-chase against India. With over 70-odd to go, they too had lost six wickets, but managed to sail through in the end. Once Saud Shakeel got out, it looked all over.
If Pakistan were to chase 205 to win the game, Imam-ul-Haq and Sami Aslam were crucial. The top-order has been Pakistan’s main weapon and their middle order hasn’t really been exposed. Imam did get off to a good start. Hampered by a hamstring-pull, he continued batting and just stood through his strokes. As a result, he creamed a few powerful ones down the ground and even cut when there was room.
Aslam also started off well and smashed Rob Sayer for two fours in an over. In the process, he became the leading run-scorer in under-19 one-day cricket. However, the temptation got the better of him as he tried to sweep and was ruled leg-before for 18. Hasan Raza and Imam played a few good strokes, but with the score on 57, Raza chased one from Will Rhodes and spooned a catch to point. At that score, Pakistan lost two more as Imam was leg-before to Rob Jones and then Kamran Ghulam pulled a short one, his first ball, to mid-wicket. At 57 for four, Pakistan looked in serious trouble. One might say that Imam was a bit unlucky as the replays suggested.
Shakeel and Ameer Hamza weathered the storm a bit as England looked on the mark. They were cheering, clapping and showed a lot of energy in every movement. But, gradually, they shifted gears. Starting with singles, they then moved their feet well and smashed anything in their zone. While Shakeel seemed to be the more active partner, Hamza was bogged down. He broke the shackles when he lofted Sayer over long-off. England maintained an attacking field with the spinners on.
As the lights came on, Shakeel and Hamza grew in confidence. They were now rotating strike and hitting the odd boundary. The English spinners had a tough time as the pair put up 74, with the rate well under control. But, just then, Hamza was trapped leg-before by Sayer for 35. Time for the second slide everyone!
Saifullah Khan tried to pull Matthew Fisher and gloved one down the leg-side for a duck. Shakeel was also dismissed in a similar fashion to end Pakistan’s hopes. From 131 for four, they slipped to 142 for seven.
That was when Zafar Gohar and Amad Butt came in. Starting with singles, they gradually built a partnership. The occasional boundaries released the pressure and going into the last three overs, it was neck and neck with 23 to get. Then came the drop of the game as Jack Winslade tipped one over the line and Butt got a six. From there, they did it easily in singles.
Earlier, England scored 204 for 7 after batting first. Skipper Rhodes top-scored with an unbeaten 76 and Ryan Higgins contributed 52 in the total. The general trend of the batting team struggling in first innings continued into this game, although it was an afternoon start. England, quite predictably, elected to bat on winning the toss, but one feels captains aren’t quite sure what to do once they win the toss at Dubai. Batting first hasn’t been easy by any means, yet that doesn’t stop the captains from ‘putting them on the board’ in knockouts.
Both sides came into this game with tremendous confidence and there were no reasons to make any changes. England have faced Pakistan quite a bit during the last summer, but weren’t successful. Having said that, their victory against India did lift their spirits and would have fancied their chances facing a similar opponent. That wasn’t to be as the top order stuttered.
The English openers failed to score off the bat. Their partnership lasted 17 balls and the only run came off a wide. The Pakistan seamers bowled in the right areas to restrict Jonathan Tattersall, who is a free-stroking batsman, eventually fell to the plot as he flashed at a ball outside the off-stump and spooned a catch to point. In the next over, Amad Butt had Harry Finch driving and caught at cover. All the early pressure had resulted in these strokes.
But, in came Ben Duckett and one expected the inventive innings from him. He was aggressive and did try to get on with things, hitting three boundaries. A flick over square-leg is one that would have impressed many as it was perfectly placed in between mid-wicket and fine-leg. Ed Barnard hung around for a while with Ryan Higgins, but was then bowled as he tried to drive Ghulam through the off-side but dragged one back onto his stumps.
At 69 for four in the 22nd over, skipper Will Rhodes joined Higgins. That partnership was quite slow and there were hardly any boundaries. Higgins, who had started brightly, went into a shell and the pair added only 50 in about 16 overs. England were playing a bit dangerously as they left the assault too late. With their main hitter, Duckett, back in the hut, the task of accelerating was always going to be tough.
Higgins was ultimately out for 52 off 99 balls. To make matters worse, Joe Clarke, the hero of the last game, was bowled off the first ball. That only left England with Rhodes, who increased pace towards the end of the innings and reached his fifty.
Pakistan bowlers were impressive and their lot was clinical on the day. Perhaps the only hiccup was when Imam hurt his shoulder while attempting a run-out, but was back on the field later.
England Under-19 204 for 7 in 50 overs (Ryan Higgins 52, Will Rhodes 76*; Amad Butt 2 for 43 Karamat Ali 2 for 36) lost to Pakistan Under-19 205 for 7 in 49.1 overs (Saud Shakeel 42, Ameer Hamza 35, Zafar Gohar 37*; Robert Jones 2 for 39, Matthew Fisher 2 for 21) by three wickets.
Man of the Match: Zafar Gohar
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)