India head into Tuesday’s Under 19 World Cup semi-final against Pakistan in Pochefstroom as favourites but cricket matches between these two sides are seldom straightforward.
But four-time champions India will back themselves to reach their third consecutive final at the U-19 World Cup when they face arch-rivals Pakistan in a last four clash on Tuesday.
Both teams go into the semi-final unbeaten. While India beat Australia in the quarter-final, Pakistan outplayed Afghanistan.
Pakistan captain Rohail Nazir played down the hype surrounding the game but an India-Pakistan contest is always a high-pressure one which tests the character of players on either side. Doing well in the game makes them overnight stars and the players know that.
“It is a high pressure game and has a lot of buzz in the world. We will play it like a normal game and hope to do well,” said Pakistan opener Mohammad Huraira after the win over Afghanistan.
“When you talk about India-Pakistan (matches) that brings out an extra edge to the whole competition,” said former India Test player Zaheer Khan on Monday. “I am sure the boys will be geared up for the big occasion and they will do well.”
With political relations on a knife-edge, there has been no Test series between the two countries since 2007/2008 and no bilateral white ball series since 2012-’13. The only time they have come together of late is at international tournaments.
In 2019, the senior sides met at Old Trafford during the ODI World Cup in England – Rohit Sharma’s 140 ensuring a comfortable India win.
And now it is the turn of the youngsters, the future stars of international cricket, to go up against each other in South Africa’s North West province, close to to the Mooi river.
Like at the highest level, the India juniors have had the upper hand over Pakistan of late, having beaten them in the Asia Cup last September when they emerged tournament winners.
India, who are the defending champions of the U-19 World Cup, had inflicted on Pakistan a 203-run hammering in the last edition in 2018.
The Indians won their group beating New Zealand and Japan in the process before going on to hammer Australia by 74 runs in the quarter-final.
Pakistan’s group match against Bangladesh – who meet New Zealand in the second semi-final on Thursday – was abandoned with Bangladesh in desperate trouble at 106/9. The Pakistanis beat Scotland and Zimbabwe to set up a quarter-final with Afghanistan.
That was another comfortable win in spite of the ‘Mankading’ storm over Afghan spinner Noor Ahmed running out Muhammad Huraira when he marginally backed up too far at the bowler’s end.
The Indian quartet Yashasvi Jaiswal, Ravi Bishnoi, Akash Singh and Kartik Tyagi have already found their way into the IPL, each of them making important contributions in South Africa.
Priyam Garg-led India will have to play their best cricket to knock Pakistan out of the competition.
Opener Jaiswal has been the backbone of India batting, scoring three half-centuries in four games including against Australia. Atharva Ankolekar has impressed with both bat and ball but the rest of the batting lineup is due some big runs in the tournament.
The bowlers have been led by the pacy but erratic Tyagi while leg-spinner Bishnoi has been the spearhead. The defence of a below par score against Australia was especially impressive.
“In this World Cup, I bowled very well in the first game but got no wickets,” fast bowler Tyagi, whose 4/24 did for Australia in the last round, told ESPNCricinfo. “Then the next two games, I bowled poorly but I took wickets. And finally, against Australia, I bowled well and got rewarded for them.”
“Ups and downs are the realities of life, so I’ve stopped thinking about the wickets column. I have just been focusing on the process,” he added.
Facing Pakistan fast bowlers Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Amir Khan and Tahir Hussain will be a challenge for the Indian batsmen.
Opener Huraira made an impressive debut in the last game, scoring 64 to lead his team to a comprehensive win over Afghanistan after bowlers nicely set up the game.
For all the players at this World Cup, there remains the dream not just of winning but doing enough to start forging a professional career in the game.
Some big names have trodden this path before: current international captains Virat Kohli, Eoin Morgan and Kane Williamson all figured at the tournament in the past along with some of the greats of the recent past, players such as Brian Lara, Yuvraj Singh, Chris Gayle and Steven Smith.
The stage in Potchefstoom is set to see who if any young Indians or Pakistanis are likely to join this elite band in the decade ahead.
Match starts at 1330 IST
(With AFP and PTI inputs)
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