The ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2024 final will see Australia facing off against India after the former edged Pakistan in a thrilling contest in Benoni.
If India’s narrow win over South Africa in the first semi-final was not enough, Benoni bore witness to another nail-biter as Australia beat Pakistan by one wicket to join India in the tournament final.
Reduced to nine wickets with 16 runs still required in a run-chase of 180, Pakistan had one foot in the final. However, Australia’s last-wicket pair held their nerve, defying the odds to clinch the match with just five balls remaining, leaving the spectators on the edge of their seats.
The win means that we will have a repeat of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 final with U19 World Cup defending champions India going head to head against Australia.
Australia’s captain, Hugh Weibgen, won the toss and opted to put Pakistan in to bat in the crucial semi-final match of the 2024 edition of the ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup, unleashing his pace bowlers on a fresh wicket.
Pakistan’s openers, Shamyl Hussain and Shahzaib Khan, started cautiously against the new ball from Mahli Beardman and Callum Vidler. However, the introduction of Tom Straker as the first change bowler brought immediate success for Australia.
In just his second over, Straker claimed the important wicket of Shamyl Hussain, who attempted an ambitious pull shot only to top-edge it to Oliver Peake, taking a fine catch at mid-on. Shortly after, Shahzaib’s watchful innings came to an end as he miscued a drive off Vidler to Hugh Weibgen at backward point, who held onto a splendid low catch.
With both openers dismissed within the Powerplay, Australia gained a strong foothold in the semi-final. Saad Baig and Azan Awais looked to rebuild for Pakistan and the former was saved by a dropped chance from Harry Dixon at first slip off Straker.
Baig’s luck didn’t last long, though, as Straker had the last laugh in the next over. The seamer found the left-hander’s edge again and this time Dixon hung on to the catch at slip to reduce Pakistan to 43 for three.
After 16 overs dominated by pace, Weibgen introduced spin into the attack. Raf MacMillan responded to his captain’s call by dismissing Ahmad Hassan with a well-pitched delivery that trapped him in front of the stumps.
MacMillan came close to claiming another wicket when Haroon Arshad narrowly survived a stumping chance. However, Beardman’s return to the attack proved fruitful as he dismissed Arshad with a delivery that skidded off the pitch and disturbed the off-stump.
Arafat Minhas joined Azan Awais, and together they revived Pakistan’s innings with a steady partnership. Awais reached his half-century off 83 balls, as the pair steadily increased the scoring rate between overs 31 to 40.
However, Straker ended their partnership by dismissing Awais for 52, caught behind by the wicketkeeper. With Awais departing, Pakistan found themselves in a precarious position at 133 for six, requiring a significant contribution from the lower order.
Minhas carried on unflustered, thumping Vidler off the back foot with a strong pull and bringing out the square cut against the spinner. He reached his half-century off 60 balls, cutting Tom Campbell in front of square for a boundary, but fell next ball when he attempted a loft over cover and sliced it to the deep fielder.
The tailenders couldn’t add too much to the total as Straker ran through them, cleaning up the last two off successive deliveries, to finish with six wickets, as many as he had managed in the entire tournament until today.
Pakistan finished on 179, needing their bowlers to step up big-time to put them in the finals of the tournament.
While Harry Dixon and Sam Konstas got Australia off to a slow, steady start, Pakistan made a roaring comeback after the Powerplay overs.
Fifteen-year-old Ali Raza cleaned up Konstas with a delivery that nipped back in sharply to hit the stumps. Weibgen smashed a full toss straight to short cover off Naveed Khan to depart for four and a massive mix-up between Harjas Singh and Dixon saw the end of the former.
With three wickets falling quickly, Baig turned to strike bowler Ubaid Shah and the move worked. The dangerous Ryan Hicks was bowled off an inside edge for a golden duck as Australia slipped to a tense 59 for four.
Dixon was joined by the left-handed Ollie Peake, who has had to bat only two times in the competition before this. The two left-handers went about rebuilding the innings as Pakistan looked to attack further.
Dixon completed his half-century in the 24th over as Peake settled in at the other end. Minhas’ entry into the attack saw the back of Dixon. The left-arm spinner had the well-set Dixon cleaned up for 50 with a delivery that turned massively back into the batter.
Runs dried up as Minhas and Naveed Khan kept things pretty tight. Raza returned to the attack after Naveed was bowled out and almost instantly found a wicket. Tom Campbell’s edge was found but the ball raced over the keeper for a boundary, the first for Australia in nine overs.
Minhas, meanwhile, continued to bowl unchanged from his end and in his eighth over, the left-arm spinner struck again. Campbell was undone by an arm ball that skidded on with the angle and hit the stumps.
With another threatening stand broken, Pakistan were back into the contest. Australia were still 34 runs away with four wickets left in the bank. Raza found MacMillan’s edge the very next over with the slip fielder diving to take a catch close to the ground. But confirmation for a clean catch wasn’t needed as the ball was over waist height and hence a no-ball.
Peake continued to build, unflustered by the chaos around him, but while on 49, he nicked a harmless Raza delivery, going down the leg-side, through to the wicketkeeper to leave Australia in a tricky position. They were still 25 runs away and Pakistan sensed a way back to win the contest.
Raza added two more in his final over to put Pakistan on the brink of a sensational win, sending back Staker and Beardman to reduce Australia to nine down.
MacMillan continued to fight though and got a lucky top edge over the keeper’s head for four in the 48th over with Australia needing less than 10 runs.
Ubaid Shah almost trapped the lower-order batsman in front in the following over, but the umpire dismissed the appeal, judging the ball to be sliding down the leg-side. Vidler then played out the remaining deliveries, reducing the equation to just three runs needed off the last over.
In a nerve-wracking climax, on the first ball of the final over, MacMillan, who looked to punch off his back foot, got an inside edge and the ball raced through fine leg, securing Australia’s thrilling victory.
Australia now have the opportunity to replicate the success of their senior team from three months ago when they face India in the final on Sunday, 11 February.
Australia skipper Hugh Weibgen stated that he had full confidence in Vidler and MacMillan to successfully finish the run-chase.
“Never in doubt [win]. We had full faith in Vids [Vidler] and Raf [MacMillan] to get the job done. There was quite a bit of emotion in the dressing room. I was quite tense and excited too. I still don’t know what really happened, but it was awesome.”
Pakistan skipper Saad Baig commended Ali Raza for his splendid spell, but remained composed despite the heartbreaking loss.
“It is difficult to be the losing team, but I felt we were 20-30 runs short. The boys played really well. Ali Raza was brilliant. Our bowling was pretty good throughout the tournament. Anyway, one team has to win, one has to lose, that’s the game.”
Pakistan 179 (48.5 overs) beat Australia 181/9 (49.1 overs)
Content courtesy: ICC Business Corporation FZ LLC 2020 via Online Media Zone.