It was difficult to pinpoint the exact reason behind the frenzied cheers emanating from the Pakistan dressing room at the end of its ICC Under-19 World Cup quarterfinal against Sri Lanka at Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Saturday (February 22), which Pakistan won by a whopping 121 runs.
The flat-screen television on the wall was tuned to OSN’s coverage of the closing stages of England’s thrilling win over India down the road in Dubai. Judging by the euphoria, the preferred team won.
Whether that is because it was the old enemy exiting a competition it seemed well credentialed to win, or because Pakistan thought India’s loss made its own path to the title easier, is a moot point. It was probably a bit of both – though much more of the former, you would expect.
In truth, its minds had been able to wander to what would come next for some time before then, given the ease with which it dispatched Sri Lanka, first scoring 279 for 9 and then finishing off its opponents for 158 in 42.3 overs.
Once Sami Aslam and Imam-ul-Haq, two players vying to be the leading run-scorer for the tournament, had put on 177 for the first wicket, a Pakistan win was a foregone conclusion.
The United Arab Emirates in general and Sharjah in particular are often deemed to be the Pakistan senior team’s home away from home, given the amount it has played here since it stopped being a preferred destination for touring teams.
Its age-group colleagues are enjoying similar home comforts, seeing as it has basically been here for the past three months, playing a tri-series, the Asia Cup and now this World Cup.
The stay has served them well as it performed like a well-greased machine against the under-par Sri Lankan youngsters.
“We have been here for quite some time, we played two tournaments here before the World Cup, so I think we are used to the conditions,” said Aslam after the game.
“Our confidence is high at the right time. We won this match by a large margin and our morale is good going in to the semifinals.”
Aslam earned the Man of the Match award for his innings of 95. And his thriving alliance with Imam at the top of the order bodes well for Pakistan as it approaches the business end of the competition.
Imam, who made 82 and initially set the pace for his more celebrated partner on a foggy morning in Sharjah, has been a revelation in this competition.
In the Asia Cup, his contributions had been negligible, but he asked the management to be promoted to open so he could take on more responsibility. The results have been highly successful and the latest innings took him to an aggregate of 342 in four matches so far.
“I’m very happy as this is the right time to be in good form,” said Imam. “I’m a senior player, the vice-captain, and this will be my last chance to experience an U-19 World Cup. I was struggling for runs but I asked the management before coming here if I could open the innings as I wanted to do something for my country. It has paid off for me.”
Sri Lanka’s fall was unusually limp given the form it had shown previously in the tournament. The die was cast as soon as Hashan Dumindu fell to the first ball of its pursuit of 280 when he dragged a delivery from Zia-ul-Haq on to his stumps.
And despite the resistance from Sadeera Samarawickrama and Priyamal Perera, who each made half-centuries, Sri Lanka could not even get close to its target.
“We had been performing well right from the practce matches up till now, but today we didn’t bat well,” said Kusal Mendis, the Sri Lanka captain. “It has been a good experience for us to play in an international competition as all of us need to learn to play at this level.”