Pakistan advance to cricket’s Under 19 World Cup final

Team from subcontinent edge England by three wickets in thrilling semi-finals. Paul Radley reports from Dubai.

Pakistan entered the Under 19 cricket World Cup final for the fifth time. Francois Nel / Getty Images
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DUBAI // Zafar Gohar said English sledging inspired him to produce the match-winning innings that saw Pakistan through to the Under 19 World Cup final.

The left-handed all-rounder was given a fierce welcome to the crease when he arrived with Pakistan precariously placed at 133 for six with 72 still needed.

They were 142 for seven shortly after, but Zafar shared an unlikely alliance with fellow bowler Amad Butt to see his side to a three wicket-win over England.

He appeared to be giving as good as he got in the verbal onslaught, and, tellingly, the outcome meant he was laughing last.

“We have played England in the past and we had always won,” said Zafar, whose 37 not out was his personal best score at this level of the game.

“It was their chance to beat us, so they got charged up. We are good friends, so there was nothing serious about it.

“The banter gave me more energy and helped me focus better.

“Seeing them so aggressive, I did not want to lose the match, and wanted to give them the answer by winning the game.”

Perhaps familiarity has bred contempt between these two sides.

They have played plenty of cricket against each other over the past year, with Pakistan winning all four matches they played in a triangular series, which also involved UAE, before Christmas.

Will Rhodes, England’s captain, was unrepentant over the tactics after seeing his side lose out with a final within touching distance.

“It was just the heat of the moment,” said Rhodes, who did not deserve to be on the losing side following an outstanding display with bat, ball and as the side’s decision-maker.

“We have played against Pakistan so many times and have got to know their lads well. A few words never hurt anyone. I don’t know what was said, it is all past now and there are no regrets.

“We played some good cricket today and 95 per cent of the game was fantastic.

“Five per cent was disappointing, and unfortunately, we couldn’t get over the line.”

England’s vocals in the field seemed to contrast markedly with the submissiveness of some of their actions.

Rhodes and his side were deprived a run during their innings when Ryan Higgins, the non-striker, opted to turn down a long single after he blocked the path of the Kamran Ghulam, the bowler.

Higgins had seemed to be merely holding his ground when the bowler attempted to field off his own bowling.

Whether it was a noble call or a naive one is a moot point, but it seems unlikely the same would have come to pass the other way around.

England may have lost focus amid all the angst, too, seeing as the quality of their fielding was not commensurate with the volume of chat.

Their ground fielding failed to hold up under the pressure of the tight run-chase, while Jack Winslade deflected a vital catch off Amad Butt over the rope for six at the death.

“It was really, really nerve-racking for the lads,” Rhodes said. “We haven’t been in that situation before in an England shirt. A few of us have done it for our counties, but to experience it at a ground like this on such a big stage, was nerve-racking.

“It was the first time a few of us had fielded under the lights as well, which never helps, but it was something we can learn from.”

Pakistan's chances of success in the final against either South Africa or Australia, who play Wednesday, could hang largely on the fitness of Imam-ul-Haq.

The tournament’s leading run scorer limped through the majority of the game after injury a hamstring while fielding.

“We have four days until the final, the doctor will check on him and we think he will be fit,” said Sami Aslam, the Pakistan captain and Imam’s opening partner.

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