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01 February 201614:46 By Sidhanta Patnaik, Mirpur

Pant blitz carries India U19 to top of Group D

Three-time champion hunts down 170 in 18.1 overs to send Nepal U19 tumbling to seven-wicket loss

The tale goes that when Rishabh Pant practices at the nets at Sonnet Club in New Delhi, he spends hours perfecting his big shots. With the Indian Premier League auction scheduled for this weekend, Pant displayed his ball-striking abilities at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur on Monday (February 1). Pant smashed the fastest fifty in the history of Under-19 cricket (off 18 balls) as India crushed Nepal by seven wickets and topped Group D in the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2016.

Nepal, which had defeated New Zealand and Ireland in its two previous encounters, finished in second spot in the group.

Pant’s 24-ball 78 was a demonstration of his desire to leave a mark on the biggest platform available to him. With India chasing 170 in 48 overs after the game started half an hour behind schedule because of fog, Pant made his intent clear right from the first ball as he swatted a length ball from outside off to the midwicket fence.

Having made a difficult shot look easy, Pant showed that he was determined to carry from where he had left in the previous game against New Zealand, when he made an attractive 57. He took a particular liking to Aarif Sheikh’s medium-pace as he clubbed him for a four and two sixes. As India raced off to 27 in the first two overs, Nepal lost any hope of making things difficult through their spinners.

If the innings against New Zealand showed how good Pant is as a back foot player, this knock was a complete show in every sense.

More than Pant’s knock, the team management would have been delighted by the way Ishan Kishan and Pant forged a partnership at the top of the order. With conditions much easier to bat in the second innings, the captain-vice captain duo attacked right from the word go as Kishan returned to form after two poor outings, providing much needed relief for the team before it plays the quarterfinal in Fatullah on February 6.

Having hit 60 runs off the first five overs, the partners stepped on the accelerator further, if that was possible, between the sixth and ninth overs as they smacked nine fours and four sixes in a space of 24 balls.

Pant reached his fifty off the penultimate ball of the seventh over when he stepped out to Prem Tamang and hit a four to mid-off.

At one point, the pair entertained thoughts of getting close to the biggest undefeated chase in Under-19 cricket, which still remains the unbroken 167-run opening partnership between Unmukt Chand and Manan Vohra against Australia in Visakhapatnam in 2011.

But the 124-run partnership was broken off the first ball of the tenth over when Pant, having hit nine fours and five sixes, was deceived in flight to be bowled by Tamang.

Two more wickets, including Kishan for 52, fell after that but Sarfaraz Khan, in inimitable style, finished the game in 18.1 overs with a straight six.

If Nepal’s bowling came up short, its batsmen gave a decent account of themselves, becoming the first team in this edition to not be bowled out against the three-time champion.

Nepal started in a hurry, trying to play big shots without any application. Once Avesh Khan showed it its place with twin strikes, it slowed down and focussed on building an innings. The batsmen succeeded in that as they had four partnerships of 20 or more, ensuring that the scorecard kept moving to finish on 169 for 8 - a score competitive on days when openers don't fire like Pant and Kishan did.

Even if Mayank Dagar, one of two changes India made to its side for this game, and Washington Sundar picked up two cheap wickets each, what stood out was the manner in which Nepal handled the spinners. The batsmen swept well and played their drives with conviction. More importantly, they showed purpose, which clearly pleased the Nepali fans who had taken a day off to be in the stands and support their team.

From an Indian perspective, the bowling yet again left a few questions to be answered. Paras Mhambrey was seen having an animated chat with the group during the innings break. With a break of four days before their next match, India would now like to get closer towards perfection.

For full scorecard of the match click here.