CHRISTCHURCH: Australia ended Afghanistan’s inspiring run at the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup with a six-wicket win in the first semi-final at the Hagley Oval here on Monday.
Afghanistan have had a dream run at this year’s tournament, defeating Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the group stages, then thrashing hosts New Zealand by 202 runs to make the final four for the first time.
But their batsmen failed to fire against Australia, leaving a spin-heavy attack little to defend.
At the start of a year in which Afghanistan will play their first official Test against India in June a young group of Afghan players led by England-born national coach Andy Moles showed their nation has a promising long-term future in the sport.
But hopes that Afghanistan might go on and reach a first World Cup final were ended by a clinical Australia team.
Australia will face the winners of Tuesday’s second semi-final between India and Pakistan in Saturday’s title-decider.
The three-time champions chased down a modest target of 182 in a canter, losing just four wickets as they reached it with more than 12 overs remaining.
After making 309-6 against New Zealand, the Afghan batsmen struggled against a varied Australia attack and were bowled out for 181 in 48 overs after skipper Naveen-ul-Haq decided to bat first upon winning the toss.
Wicket-keeper/batsman Ikram Ali Khil made a superb 80, batting at first drop, and tried to rally his team-mates around him. But only three other batsmen reached double figures; Rahmanullah Gurbaz who made 20 at the top of the order, Nisar Wahdat who made 11 and tailender Mujeeb Zadran 12.
Australia’s new ball bowlers Ryan Hadley and Zac Evans put the Afghan batsmen under pressure, preventing them from building any momentum. Evans took 2-26 from nine overs and Hadley 1-17 from seven.
Medium-pacer Jonathan Merlo, the sixth bowler used by Australia, took 4-24 from his 10 overs and leg-spinner Lloyd Pope, who took eight wickets in Australia’s quarter-final victory over England, finished with 1-34 from six overs.
Opener Jack Edwards put Australia on the way to their winning target with 72 from 65 balls, which included eight fours and two sixes. Param Uppal made 32 and Nathan McSweeney 22 in an unbroken partnership of 53 for the fifth wicket which carried Australia to victory in the 38th over.
“We did a bit of research on their spinners and thought it’d be a good idea to take the game to them,” Edwards said. “Try to get them before they get us. The pitch was pretty slow, probably gave us a bit of time to read the spin, which helped.”
Edwards was supported by Param Uppal, who was 32 not out at the end.
INDIA, PAKISTAN READY FOR BIG CLASH
India and Pakistan, in the meantime, look forward to their semi-final after not getting to play each other in the Asia Cup in November.
India coach Rahul Dravid said a match against Pakistan could be a good learning curve for the players.
“It’s exciting to play an India-Pakistan game because under-19 cricket is all about experiences, about giving them different learning environs. The last couple of years we haven’t had a chance to play Pakistan at any level, so it’s really nice that it has panned out the way it has,” the Dravid observed. Pakistan captain Hassaan Khan said his team would take the India clash as any other match rather than worry about the hype.
“There is definitely a build-up to this match but we want to take it like any other match. We have generally done well against India in under-19 cricket and the boys are really excited and looking forward to the match because we have not played them before,” Hassaan said.
Meanwhile, England will take on hosts New Zealand in the Super League seventh place playoff in Queenstown on Tuesday.
Rahmanullah Gurbaz c Holt b Merlo 20
Ibrahim Zadran c Hadley b Evans 7
Ikram Ali Khil c Pope b Edwards 80
Bahir Shah c Holt b Merlo 4
Darwish Rasooli lbw b Merlo 2
Nisar Wahdat b Merlo 11
Azmatullah Omarzai c Edwards b Hadley 1
Naveen-ul-Haq b Pope 8
Qais Ahmad c Holt b Sutherland 8
Mujeeb Zadran not out 12
Zahir Khan c sub b Evans 8
EXTRAS (LB-6, W-9, PR-5) 20
TOTAL (all out, 48 overs) 181
FALL OF WKTS: 1-21, 2-58, 3-80, 4-86, 5-124, 6-131, 7-146, 8-155, 9-161.
BOWLING: Hadley 7-1-17-1 (5w); Evans 9-0-26-2 (1w); Edwards 4-0-16-1 (2w); Sutherland 9-0-41-1; Pope 6-0-34-1 (1w); Merlo 10-2-24-4; Uppal 3-0-12-0.
J. Edwards b Qais 72
M. Bryant c Azmatullah b Mujeeb 4
J.J.S. Sangha c and b Qais 26
J. Merlo c Ikram b Naveen 17
P. Uppal not out 32
N.A. McSweeney not out 22
EXTRAS (LB-1, W-8) 9
TOTAL (for four wkts, 37.3 overs) 182
FALL OF WKTS: 1-26, 2-103, 3-125, 4-129.
DID NOT BAT: W. Sutherland, B.J. Holt, Z. Evans, R. Hadley, L. Pope.
BOWLING: Mujeeb Zadran 9.3-0-45-1 (2w); Naveen-ul-Haq 10-0-46-1 (3w); Azmatullah Omarzai 1-0-12-0; Qais Ahmad 10-2-35-2; Zahir Khan 7-0-43-0 (3w).
RESULT: Australia won by six wickets.
UMPIRES: S. George (South Africa) and R.T. Robinson (England).
TV UMPIRE: C.K. Nandan (India).
MATCH REFEREE: J.J. Crowe (New Zealand).
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Jack Edwards.
SECOND SEMI-FINAL: India vs Pakistan, Hagley Oval (Christchurch), Tuesday.