DUBAI - The South Africa under-19s are set to fight the battle of their lives when they take on Pakistan in the final of the 2014 ICC U19 World Cup in Dubai on Saturday. South Africa have yet to win an U19 World Cup, despite featuring in two finals in 2002 and 2008, while Pakistan have two titles under their belt.
When South Africa Under-19s coach Ray Jennings spoke before the World Cup began, he got one prediction right and another wrong. He was confident his team would make the final, which they have. He also expected to meet India in it. He was wrong on that count. Their opponents are Pakistan, two-time winners of the U-19 World Cup and practically on 'home' turf in the UAE. The defending champions India being knocked out in the quarters hasn't devalued the rest of the tournament by any means for the final promises a close contest between two good bowling sides.
It's been a bowlers' tournament and the player of Pakistan will be keeping an eye on is Kagiso Rabada. He was at his optimum best against Australia in the semi-final with 6 for 25 and had rattled West Indies at the start of the tournament. Rabada's strength is raw pace and bounce and his impact has been all the more telling because he has felled teams that would have faced bowlers of his speed in the nets back home on bouncier pitches. Pakistan's batsmen would have faced raw quicks back at home too, but doing so in a tournament final is a different story.
"The past is not something that's big on our minds," said Protea skipper Aiden Markram. "We want to make history, yes, but we want to play tomorrow's game with the same cool and level headedness we have applied in all the others. It's a great honour for us to be here and to play in the final. This is what we have all dreamed of for years and to be within touching distance of the ultimate dream means more to the team than I can say. We will definitely go into the match with ruthless intent," he said.
South Africa are the only undefeated side in the tournament. Rabada's their quickest and their other seam options include Justin Dill and Corbin Bosch, slower in pace but effective. Pakistan's strength is spin, with their duo of Karamat Ali and Zafar Gohar expected to be a threat on a used pitch in Dubai. Zia-ul-Haq leads the pace attack and it was his accuracy that stood out in the semi-final against England.
Pakistan have been powered by strong starts by their openers Sami Aslam and Imam-ul-Haq, who have added stands of 109, 125 and 177 in this tournament. However, their middle order hasn't been tested as much and could be exposed if the top order has a rare failure, like in the semi-final. It came down to Gohar and Amad Butt to cover the slack. While it reflected the team's depth, the middle order would want to step up. Pakistan will not be short on confidence after scoring a thrilling win against England in the semifinals. Gohar and Amad Butt put on 63 runs for the unfinished eighth wicket as Pakistan defeated England by three wickets in a low-scoring contest to reach their fifth World Cup final on Monday. Zafar, later adjudged man of the match, scored a priceless 37 not out and Amad chipped in with an invaluable 26 not out as Pakistan returned from 142 for seven in pursuit of a 205-run target to achieve a memorable victory with five balls to spare. Pakistan, winner in 2004 and 2006, had needed 36 from the last five overs, then 12 runs off 12 balls and finally four runs off the last over.