ICC U19 Cricket World Cup
South Africa will aim to break the title drought when it will lock horns with two-time former champion Pakistan in the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup UAE 2014 final in front of Star Sports cameras at Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Saturday.

Finalist captains Sami Aslam (left) of Pakistan and Aiden Markram (r) of South Africa poses with trophy.

South Africa finished runner-up in the 2002 and 2008 tournaments while Pakistan remains the only side to win back-to-back titles when it triumphed in 2004 and 2006 in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka respectively. In addition this, Pakistan also reached the finals in 1988 and 2010.

On head to head, the two sides have met only once in the history of this competition when South Africa defeated Pakistan by 98 runs according to the Duckworth-Lewis Method in Kuala Lumpur in the 2008 tournament. Their match in the 2000 tournament in Kurunegala, Sri Lanka, was washed out without a ball being bowled.

In the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup 2014, South Africa is the only side which is unbeaten so far. It defeated the West Indies by 94 runs, Canada by 45 runs, Zimbabwe by seven wickets, Afghanistan by nine wickets in the quarter-final and Australia by 80 runs in the semi-final.

In contrast, Pakistan started its campaign with a 40-run defeat against India and then achieved victory from the jaws of defeat against England in the semi-final by three wickets. In between, it beat Scotland by 146 runs, Papua New Guinea by 145 runs and Sri Lanka in the quarter-final by 121 runs.

Pakistan’s run in the tournament has been dominated by captain Sami Aslam and Imam-ul-Haq, the two openers who have featured in three century partnerships to date. The left-handers, who also played in the 2012 tournament in Townsville where Pakistan finished eighth, have hit one century and five half-centuries between them.

Imam, who has recovered from a hamstring injury and will play on Saturday, is the tournament’s second leading run-getter with 370 runs, while Sami sits in 11th position with 242 runs. Hasan Raza with 135 runs and Saud Shakeel 123 runs are the other notable Pakistan batsmen.

In the bowling, only Karamat Ali has been a consistent performer with 11 wickets so far. He is followed by Zafar Gohar and Zia-ul-Haq, who have picked up eight wickets apiece. Zafar and Zia are also playing in their second World Cup.

Sami, speaking at his pre-final media conference at the ICC Headquarters, insisted his side was peaking at the right time.

“Imam and I may have done bulk of the scoring at the top of the order, but the middle and lower middle-order fired in the crucial match against England and got us home. I think everything is coming together and we’re peaking at the right time,” Sami said.

“Saturday will be the day in which we’ll feature in the most important match of our lives. Yes, there will be pressure but I think we have the players who can sustain it and perform to their potential. We will enjoy this match and try to give our best shot.

“We have utmost respect for South Africa. It is the only unbeaten side in the tournament and any team that reaches the final deserves appreciation and respect. I know they’ll try to win the tournament they’ve never won before, but we would also like to win it for the third time so that we can match the achievement of Australia and India.”

Talking about the Kagiso Rabada bowling effort against Australia, Sami said: “Obviously, he bowled very well against Australia. He was quick, fast and accurate, but on Saturday he’ll have to start all over again. We’re ready for the Rabada challenge and I think it will be a good contest.

“The team is encouraged by the support it has received from home as well as in the UAE. I’m confident that we’ll live up to the expectations of our supporters and fans,” Sami concluded.

South Africa captain Aiden Markram is the man who has struck form at right time. The 19-year-old from Centurion hit back-to-back centuries against Zimbabwe and Afghanistan and now has 304 runs against his name.

Yaseen Valli is the other batsman who has shown consistency with the bat. He has hit a century and two half-centuries in four innings.

Fast bowler Kabada was almost unplayable in the semi-final against Australia where he picked up six for 25. Justin Dill has provided excellent support to the South Africa bowling attack and has claimed 10 wickets so far, while Valli has displayed his all-round skills by also claiming nine wickets.

Markram, talking to the media at the ICC Headquarters, said he was looking forward to Saturday’s final.

“Its massive for us to be playing in this final,” he said, adding: “We acknowledge that history has not quite gone our way, but I still feel that we can’t really focus too much on winning. Our focus is on the process and getting there. Execution of our game plan tomorrow and our skills will be vital and hopefully the result can take care of itself.

“We don’t have any superstars or first-class players in our side. But that works to our advantage because each day it is an opportunity for a player to do well and win us the game. It works better for us because it also means that we don’t have to rely on just one or two players. All players do their bit.”

Markram admitted his fast bowlers will be targeting the in-form Pakistan openers. “Hats off to the opening batsmen from Pakistan, they have played really well. We have some good bowlers who bowled very well in the semi-final. We’re going to look for their weaknesses and we know where our strengths are,” he concluded.

Teams (to be selected from):
Pakistan – Sami Aslam (captain), Ameer Hamza, Hasan Raza, Hussain Talat, Imam-ul-Haq, Imran Rafiq, Irfanullah Shah, Kamran Ghulam, Karamat Ali, Mohammad Aftab, Saifullah Khan, Salman Saeed, Saud Shakeel, Zafar Gohar and Zia-ul-Haq

South Africa – Aiden Markram (captain), Bradley Bopp, Corbin Bosch, Dirk Bruwer, Kirwin Christoffels, Justin Dill, Clyde Fortuin, Dayyaan Galiem, Sibonelo Makhanya, Greg Oldfield, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Ngazibini Sigwili, Jason Smith, Yaseen Valli

Umpires – S.Ravi and Ranmore Martinesz
Third umpire – Chris Gaffaney
Fourth umpire – Enamul Hoque-Moni
Match referee – Graeme La Brooy

Meanwhile, in the third-fourth position play-off match, Ben Duckett hit a fine century but it was No.10 batsman Josh Shaw who hit the winning four to guide England to a thrilling one-wicket victory over Australia in the third-fourth position-off match at ICC Academy 1.

Duckett scored 100 off 109 balls with nine fours as England achieved the 247-run target with one wicket and two balls to spare. The last-wicket pair of Fisher (20 not out) and Josh Shaw (12 not out) put on 34 runs off 21 deliveries after England had slipped to 213 for nine.

Earlier, Ben McDermott top-scored with 56 and opener Matthew Short scored 41 as Australia collected 246 for seven in 50 overs.

Scores in brief
3rd/4th position play-off – England beat Australia by one wicket at ICC Academy 1
Australia 246-7, 50 overs (Ben McDermott 56, Matthew Short 41, Sean Willis 31; Ed Barnard 3-22, Will Rhodes 2-35)
England 247-9, 49.4 overs (Ben Duckett 100, Will Rhodes 28; Ben Ashkenazi 3-32, Short 2-42, Cameron Valente 2-43)
Man of the match – Ben Duckett (England)