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England lose semi-final thriller

The Report by Kanishkaa Balachandran in Dubai
February 24, 2014
Zafar Gohar, along with Amad Butt, made England's fielding lapses count © ICC
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Pakistan Under-19s 205 for 7 (Shakeel 45, Gohar 37*) beat England Under-19s 204 for 7 (Rhodes 76*, Higgins 52) by three wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Zafar Gohar and Amad Butt starred in a jailbreak with the bat, getting Pakistan Under-19s over the line in a tense semi-final against England Under-19s in Dubai.

Gohar and Butt came in when Pakistan were in the doldrums at 142 for 7 chasing 205. The pair were not under immense pressure with the asking rate at any point, but a few fielding lapses from England aided Pakistan's steady journey towards the target. It came down to the final over with four needed and Butt sealed the win with a boundary over mid-off, sparking wild celebrations.

Gohar and Butt came in with 63 needed off the last 13 overs. Gohar, the left-hander, glided a boundary to third man before Butt chipped another over mid-off to ease the nerves. They impressed with their temperament, choosing to loft only if the ball was in the right length. The pair kept rotating the strike and, with every single, raised the hopes of the Pakistan team and their supporters in the stands.

Pakistan needed 38 from the last six overs but a tight over from the captain Will Rhodes brought the equation down to more than a run a ball for the first time. A ten-run over from the seamer Jack Winslade eased the pressure, making it 26 off the last four. Winslade then made probably the costliest error of the day when he dropped a catch at long-off running backwards. The momentum took him towards the boundary but the ball spilled out and lobbed over the rope. It was an error similar to the one committed by India's Deepak Hooda in a crucial stage in the quarter-final, ironically against England.

England were left counting the damages as the equation came down to a run-a-ball with the pair unseparated. As the tension mounted, England failed to plug the singles and Pakistan emerged favourites. Gohar and Butt's stand produced 63 to ensure the match didn't slip away.

Pakistan have so far been carried by Imam-ul-Haq's solid knocks at the top, but the chances of him playing a long innings were hampered when he pulled a hamstring early in his stint. Imam, the tournament's leading run-scorer, was struggling between the wickets but he released the pressure on himself with a couple of boundaries off the seamers, the first of which was smashed past mid-off.

Rhodes introduced spin towards the end of the Powerplay and it turned out to be a smart move. Rob Sayer, the offspinner, had been cut and swept for boundaries by Sami Aslam, but when Sami attempted another sweep, he was trapped lbw. It wasn't the last time Pakistan lost a wicket straight after a spinner came on.

It also wasn't the last time a Pakistan batsman fell going for shots. Hasan Raza tried to clear the off side off Rhodes but tamely chipped it to mid-off. Imam got forward to the legspinner Rob Jones but failed to cover the line. He was given out lbw but replays showed the ball would have missed the leg stump. Kamran Ghulam tried to pound a short one from Jones but found short midwicket. Pakistan had slipped from 41 for 0 to 57 for 4 and England were on the upswing.

Saud Shakeel and Ameer Hamza played steadily against the spinners, with Hamza sweeping full tosses from Jones to the boundary. Shakeel scored four boundaries in his 45 and the pair looked comfortable against the seamers, too.

Rhodes decided to revert to spin and for the second time, was rewarded instantly. Sayer struck in the first over of a new spell, trapping Hamza lbw while he attempted the sweep. There was further trouble when Saifullah Khan and Shakeel were caught down the leg side trying to hook the seamer Matthew Fisher, the best of the England seamers with figures of 10-3-21-2. As England clawed back, things heated up and a few of their players engaged in a verbal spat with the batsmen. Pakistan, though, had the last laugh.

Pakistan were on top for most part when they took the field. The noon start was expected to be friendlier for the batsmen, but the trend of early top-order wickets continued. England were initially tied down by the seamers, who picked up early wickets, but later found the spinners equally hard to deal with. The acceleration towards the end came from Rhodes, who made an unbeaten 76 off 79 balls.

It hurt England that their best batsman against, Ben Duckett, fell just after he had worked to get a start. Duckett kept looking for scoring opportunities, pulling the seamers over the infield and fetched two consecutive fours off Zia-ul-Haq on the on side. However, he got his placement wrong the same over, attempting another pull, and fell to a sharp catch from Imam-ul-Haq at midwicket. Duckett's handling of India's spinners helped England get over the line in the quarter-finals but now it was down to his colleagues to handle Pakistan's spin-heavy attack.

The boundaries had dried up for England after the loss of three wickets for 38. The ploy of taking the Powerplay as early as the 17th over didn't work as it yielded only 15 runs. Rhodes broke a boundary drought of 98 balls with a pull off Shakeel to deep square leg. Ryan Higgins made a subdued fifty, scoring just one four in his 99-ball stay.

Rhodes' positive knock was responsible for taking England to 200. He was aggressive between the wickets and used his feet against the spinners, charging Gohar and launching him over deep midwicket. England scored exactly 50 off the last five overs, thanks to Rhodes and Sayer. Rhodes reached his fifty off 65 balls and along with Sayer, took 17 off the final over. In the end, it wasn't enough.

Pakistan will now meet the winner of the second semi-final between Australia and South Africa.

Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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