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ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2024, Semifinal 2 Preview: An exhilarating contest looms between Australia and Pakistan

AUS u19 (Photo Source: Twitter)

The second semi-final of the ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup will feature two sides who’ve had their fair share of ups and downs in the competition.

From the prism of results, Australia and Pakistan have done little wrong. Both sides remain undefeated in the competition and have overcome feisty opponents like England, New Zealand, and Bangladesh.

But their respective journeys to the knockout stage have been far from smooth. Both teams had to overcome challenging phases of play in adverse circumstances, something that held especially true for Pakistan in their Super Six encounters. 

While these jolts keep them battle-ready for the semi-finals, it also makes them aware of the areas that need improvement.

Australia and Pakistan are blessed with top-notch pace attacks and also have crafty spinners in their lineups. To add to that, their top-order batters have shown great form. 

With immense talent in their ranks and a propensity to play positive cricket, a must-win contest between these two line-ups has all the makings of a nail-biter.

How they have fared so far

Australia

Form guide (in the tournament): NR W W W W 

Hugh Weibgen’s side were grouped with Namibia, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. 

Led by Callum Vidler, the pacers wreaked havoc in their opening encounter against Namibia, bowling out the African side for 91. However, Namibia’s fast bowlers stood tall and had Australia in a spot of bother at 57/5. A patient knock from skipper Weibgen halted Namibia’s momentum and saw them through by four wickets.

A more rounded batting performance followed against Zimbabwe, where Harry Dixon’s 89 guided them to a strong total before Harkirat Bajwa’s 4/15 dismantled the chase. The final group clash against Sri Lanka saw a classy 77* from Ryan Hicks rescue the side after Australia’s top-order fell by the wayside at the start of the second Powerplay.

In their first Super Six game against England, the Australia top-order was once again among the runs, with Weibgen’s vibrant ton leading the charge. Their bowlers then pressed the advantage of scoreboard pressure in a rain-affected encounter and secured a massive win.

However, the batting slipped up once more against a charged-up West Indies in their final Super Six encounter yet a splendid century from Sam Konstas helped them to post a competitive total of 227/8. With Charlie Anderson’s early breakthroughs, the contest had all the makings of a thriller, but rain intervention meant the game ended without a result. Their undefeated run ensured that they topped Group 2 of the Super Six, and entered the semi-finals.

Pakistan

Form guide (in the tournament): W W W W W

Pakistan were placed in Group D along with Afghanistan, Nepal, and New Zealand.

The group games were relatively smooth sailing for Saad Baig’s team. Shahzaib Khan’s 106 set the tone for a substantial total against Afghanistan, even as Saad contributed with an attacking fifty. Pacers Ubaid Shah and Mohammad Zeeshan were relentless as Pakistan won the game by 181 runs.

A valiant effort from Nepal challenged them in their second game. Nepal batted out their 50 overs, before having Pakistan in a spot of bother at 104/4. A patient 63 from Azan Awais then pulled Pakistan through to victory in East London.

But Pakistan were back to their very best in the final group encounter against the Kiwis. Ubaid’s scintillating opening spell saw the back of the top order before Arafat Minhas ran through the tail with his three-wicket haul. An attacking 80* from Shahzaib won Pakistan the game by 10 wickets.

In the Super Six phase, after bowling out Ireland for a modest 181, Pakistan’s batting was tested. Ahmad Hassan’s 57* pulled them out of trouble this time, guiding them to a three-wicket win. 

A net run rate tussle brewed up in their final Super Six encounter against Bangladesh. Despite a sturdy start for Pakistan, Sheikh Jibon and Rohanat Doullah Borson bowled exceptionally well to clean up their subcontinental rivals for 155.

It took Ubaid’s 5/44 backed by some exceptional fielding to see Pakistan home by a five run margin in a low-scoring thriller. With eight points in their kitty, they finished second in Group 1, sitting behind India on the basis of run rate. 

Players to watch out for

Australia’s skipper Hugh Weibgen has also been their anchor in the tournament. He began the tournament with a brisk 39* from 43, which helped close out a risky chase against Namibia. 

A solid 68 from 69 balls assisted Harry Dixon in the second game versus Zimbabwe. He failed to get going in the third game but opened the Super Six with a stroke-filled 120 against England. He hit 15 fours in a knock that saw him bat for over three hours. This hundred laid the foundation for a massive Australian win.

Besides impessing with the bat, Weibgen has been an active captain on the field. He has been smart with his bowling changes and overall leadership.

Shahzaib Khan’s rock-solid presence at the top is a big plus for a mercurial Pakistan batting lineup. He was the Player of the Match in two of their group encounters, contributing with a hundred against Afghanistan, and an unbeaten half-century against New Zealand. 

The southpaw also ensured stable starts for Pakistan in low-scoring chases against Nepal and Bangladesh respectively. 

Given the recent troubles of the middle-order batters, Shahzaib’s innings at the top will be an important factor for Pakistan in the semi-final against a quality attack.

Callum Vidler’s pinpoint accuracy, pace and movement have seen him stand out for Australia. Despite missing a game and hardly bowling in the rain-affected encounter against West Indies, the bowler already has 11 wickets to his name. 

Eight of these wickets came in the form of match-winning four-wicket hauls against Namibia and England.

Along with Mahli Beardman and Charlie Anderson, Vidler can give Australia the early advantage on 6 February in Benoni.

The younger brother of Naseem Shah, Ubaid Shah stands joint second in the wicket-taking charts at the U19 Men’s CWC 2024, sitting behind South Africa speedster Kwena Maphaka. 

Beginning with a 4/26 against Afghanistan, the pacer hasn’t looked back. His skillful display with both the new and old ball has meant that the bowler has made an impact in all stages of the game and helped Pakistan come back into matches at crucial junctures.

This came to the fore against Bangladesh when Ubaid overcame the ignominy of having dropped a catch to pick the crucial wicket of Mohammad Shihab James in the very next over, changing the momentum of the match and helping Pakistan secure a famous win.

Predicted XI

Australia: Harry Dixon, Sam Konstas, Hugh Weibgen (c), Harjas Singh, Ryan Hicks (wk), Tom Campbell, Raf MacMillan, Harkirat Bajwa, Charlie Anderson, Mahli Beardman, Callum Vidler

Pakistan: Shamyl Hussain, Shahzaib Khan, Azan Awais, Saad Baig (c) (wk), Ahmad Hassan, Haroon Arshad, Arafat Minhas, Ali Asfand, Ubaid Shah, Mohammad Zeeshan, Ali Raza

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