By Sidhanta Patnaik in Dubai
Aiden Markram stars in low-scoring match
The last time South Africa won a big-ticket event was when Hansie Cronje lifted the ICC Knockout Trophy in 1998. Aiden Markram, Justin Dill, Corbin Bosch and Greg Oldfield were just four years old, and Clyde Fortuin, Kagiso Rabada and Yaseen Valli were a year younger. All of them were instrumental in South Africa beating Pakistan by six wickets at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Saturday (March 1) and win the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2014.
The bowlers, who skittled Pakistan out for 131 in 44.3 overs, set up the match, and then Markram, the competition's third best batsman with 370 runs, and Bradley Dial were unbeaten on 66 and 14 when the victory was achieved in 42.1 overs.
Markram had acknowledged in the pre-match press conference that history had gone against his side, and underscored the importance of doing well in the final. And, no one led the way as much as he did. After having led the team exceptionally well on the field, he held his own with the bat under pressure to spoil Pakistan’s hope of being the third team after Australia and India to lift the cup thrice.
With more than 2000 supporters chanting slogans, Pakistan started its defence in spirited fashion. Knowing South Africa buckled under pressure in knockout games in the past, the Pakistani bowlers kept it tight, and got two quick wickets.
Fortuin was early to play a pull shot and Hasan Raza caught the leading edge at cover. Soon after that, Karamat Ali, the legspinner, trapped Jason Smith with a googly and Pakistan would have thought that it had pulled things back.
Aware that if the rut of wickets could be stopped, the game would be easily won, Markram and Oldfield played out time. Against the spinners, who posed a few questions, they batted with a straight bat and ran well between the wickets. There were two phases in the game when not a single boundary was scored for 57 and 54 balls respectively, but the duo hardly showed any signs of running out of patience.
By the time the pair had added 77 runs, Shoaib Akhtar, who had come to watch the game, had left the ground, and the crowd was silent.
It would be easy to question a few decisions that Sami Aslam took on the field, but Pakistan's bowlers never had any real chance to protect a small total on a pitch which eased out as the game progressed.
In the 33rd over, Karamat got Oldfield to edge a faster one to the wicketkeeper when he was on 40, and Zia-ul-Haq bowled Valli, but Markram stood like a pillar. He hit a cover drive to the fence to bring up his half-century, and soon after that the game was won.
If Markram impressed with his ability to deliver under pressure, Bosch and Dill were phenomenal with the ball.
But, there was more to it than just that in South Africa’s bowling performance.
Coming into the final, a lot of talk revolved around how the Pakistani batsmen would handle the pace of Rabada, who was sensational throughout the tournament.
Once Pakistan decided to bat, it seemed like the opening pair of Sami and Imam-ul-Haq, who was declared fit for the match after having pulled a hamstring in the semifinal, had done their job in surviving Rabada’s first four overs.
Initially, Rabada was predictable with the way he used the bouncer, and attacked mostly the leg-stump with a short square-leg in place.
Sami and Imam were cautious in their approach, putting 23 runs in eight overs. But, Pakistan could not build on it, as Rabada broke through in his fifth over. He produced the best ball of his spell – a length delivery that went across – and Imam had no option but to edge it and Fortuin took the first of his six catches behind the stumps for the day.
Imam was furious as he walked back to the pavilion and those watching the game sensed a shift in momentum.
Rabada bowled one more over, and Dill replaced Ngazibini Sigwili, brought into this game as an extra bowler in place of Kirwin Christoffels, from the Emirates Road End.
Sami had looked assured, and must have had a lapse in concentration for only a split second, and Dill was quick to grab the moment. Off the fifth ball of Dill’s first over, Sami nicked an outgoing full delivery and Fortuin had his second.
That marked the start of South Africa’s domination in the game through Dill and Bosch.
Dill and Bosch had played the supporting role in South Africa’s unbeaten campaign in the competition, but on Saturday they delivered in style.
Bosch, son of Tertius Bosch, the former cricketer who died under mysterious circumstances in 2000, and Dill, came across as bowlers well aware of their strengths, who did not experiment much. They may not have the pace of Rabada, but the conditions in Dubai have suited their style of bowling within the stumps, and they ensured that they benefited.
In their first spell, the two bowled 14 overs in tandem, conceded 26 runs, picked five wickets and reduced Pakistan to 60 for 6.
Dirk Bruwer caught Saud Shakeel at first slip, and Kamran Ghulam, Hasan Raza and Saifullah Khan were caught behind off good length deliveries.
Markram introduced spin in the form of Valli only in the 26th over, and Valli responded with the wicket of Ameer Hamza, when the batsman was deceived by the flight and hit it straight back to the bowler.
Bruwer, however, dropped Amad Butt, who remained unbeaten on 37, the highest score of the innings, off Dill at mid-off on the second ball of the Batting Power Play, and that brought a twist in the tale.
The unbeaten stand of 63 runs between Zafar Gohar and Butt had helped Pakistan get past England by three wickets in the semifinal, and on Saturday, they once again got together to rescue the innings.
They showed respect to Rabada, who finished with figures of 1 for 26 much to the applause of his father, who took photographs every time his son ran in to bowl, but played their shots against the others. With their 45-run association for the eighth wicket, they took Pakistan to 117 before Bosch caught a skier at midwicket to send Gohar back for 22.
Soon, Valli picked up his second wicket when Karamat Ali was caught behind. With six catches in the innings, Fortuin ended the competition with 20 dismissals (19 catches and one stumping).
Bosch returned to bowl Zia-ul-Haq out and finish with figures of 4 for 15.
Pakistan has turned around matches from improbable situations in the past, but on Saturday it did not have enough reserves to halt South Africa from keeping its unbeaten record in the tournament intact and taking the monkey off a nation's back.