In their first match of the U19 World Cup 2014, mirroring the annoying trend of their senior teams, Pakistan lost to an Indian team that started the tournament as favorites and defending champions. The group structure meant that Pakistan would still go through at the expense of minnows to fight another day.
Few would have expected this mercurial outfit, led by opener Sami Aslam, to reach the finals of the World Cup. They went on to win every match after that, beating Sri Lanka in the semifinals.
Even fewer expected that India, led by future hope Vijay Zol, would crash out in their first knockout game (Quarter finals) to a less-than-fancied English team led by medium pacer Rhodes. India, though, went on to finish a stellar 5th after defeating teams like West Indies and Sri Lanka in the playoffs, effectively having just one fatal bad day in their campaign. The results, however, show otherwise. The positives include IPL Star Sanju Samson, prolific once again, as well as left arm chinaman spinner Kuldip Yadav (hattrick against Scotland), who could be the need of the hour in the senior team very soon.
Since 1988, this is the 10th edition of the ‘Kiddie’ World Cup, and Pakistan’s 5th final. They have won it twice (2004 and 2006), while India has won it 3 times.
The other surprise finalist this year is South Africa, in only their second final after 2008 where they lost to Kohli’s Indian team. Led by opener Markram, they are unbeaten in the competition, after a fighting half century from wicketkeeper-opener Fortuin in the semifinals against a strong and fancied Australian outfit. Young quick Rabada, though, ended up as the talk of the competition with a decisive 6 wicket haul that destroyed Australia and restricted them to 150 while chasing a par 230 score. Senior Captain AB De Villiers, also the best batsman in world cricket, expressed his joy and will look to derive inspiration from the juniors in the 3rd and deciding test against Australia.
The best batting performance of the World Cup has undoubtedly been 18 year old West Indian left hander Nicolas Pooran’s stunning 143 (out of a team total of 208, after being 70-8) against Australia in the quarterfinals. They went on to lose the game, with Pooran’s father missing his innings after leaving a day early back to Trinidad, but the youngster (who counts MS Dhoni as his inspiration) will be remembered by many for his outstanding counterattacking innings. He has left a clear mark on the competition, and will join an illustrious league of West Indian left-handers (Gayle, Chanderpaul, Lara, Lloyd, Sobers) when he begins to play first class cricket back home.
Few would bet against eternal favorites Pakistan, but given the strength of South Africa’s young bowling attack, this will be a close call. I’d still go with Pakistan though, for we all know that they often have the best young players in the world. It is during transition to senior cricket that many falter, not entirely due to their own lack of commitment.