CHRISTCHURCH - Pakistan's Under-19 World Cup began with a loss to Afghanistan, and will now end with a clash against the same opponents in the third-place playoff. On their drive to Queenstown for that fixture, they will have time to reflect on what may-have been had they fielded better in the semi-final against India.
There are frustrating ways to lose a cricket match, and poor fielding - Pakistan dropped four catches and missed three run-outs - is among the worst. "I won't say it was because of the pressure," Pakistan captain Hasan Khan said of the team's catching. "We trained really hard for that, and I think it wasn't our day today. It wasn't the pressure or training. A lot of the boys were high on morale and were enjoying themselves. But Shubman Gill started well, and we misfielded a few as well.”
"I think we did well [in the first innings], given how the pitch was, our fast bowlers and spinners did well. If we had put in more effort in the field, we might have been able to keep them to a lesser total and it would have been a different story."
The pitch at Hagley Oval was the same as the one used for the Australia-Afghanistan semi-final on Monday. It was a touch slow, but there was no variable bounce or big turn. While a chase of 273 was certainly tough, it wasn't impossible. But the pressure of batting second in a semi-final can do strange things and Pakistan suffered a meltdown after their top three were removed by outstanding catches.
"Even if we'd won the toss, not much would have changed," Hasan said. "The pitch wasn't changing too much - both innings had more or less the same type of pitch. We played a few poor shots with the bat, and if you compare our batting with theirs, we had a higher rate of poor shots. That was one of the reasons why we couldn't chase the target."
In what was a wonderfully sporting gesture, Hasan was among the first to congratulate Shubman Gill when he got to a century in the final over of India's innings.
"The way he batted was exceptional, he outclassed us throughout his innings," Hasan said. "He was playing on merit, and didn't give any chances either. It was difficult to bowl to him. The way he batted really made the difference.
Hasan couldn't help but come back to his team's fielding. While lauding India for their agility and athleticism, he didn't put down his team either and brushed off their effort as an aberration.
"Their fielders are really good, everybody knows that," he said. "But I think, at this level, there are a lot of teams who are very good in the field these days. There is high competition. We have also fielded very well throughout the tournament, only today was a bad day. We couldn't take our chances, that was our mistake. India took their chances. That was the difference."
The one thing he'd take back home, though, is the camaraderie. This will be the culmination of the Under-19 journey for a number of players, who will now hope to step up and make a name for themselves in first-class cricket and beyond.
"When we started at the Asia Cup in Malaysia, the team there and the team here, we're totally different," Hasan said of the lessons learnt. "The boys have gelled really well, and the boys have been doing really well in all the formats. Just one bad day here cost us badly."