The ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup in New Zealand is veering towards its conclusion with just three matches remaining.
The past month has seen 16 of the world’s best youth teams battle it out for junior cricket’s most coveted prize.
Australia and India will contest Saturday’s final with both teams searching for their fifth crown but prior to the contest we look at the top five players from what has been an enthralling tournament so far.
SHUBMAN GILL (INDIA)
The Punjab-born 18-year-old has been the tournament’s best batsman so far. There can be no doubt about his temperament either after his match-winning unbeaten 102 against arch-rivals Pakistan in Tuesday’s semi-finals.
His three innings prior to the Pakistan clash had yielded scores of 63, 90no and 86. With a batting average of 170, it is no wonder that Gill has bagged a lucrative IPL contract.
HARRY BROOK (ENGLAND)
The Yorkshire batsman has been the shining light for England in the tournament with some eye-catching performances with the bat. He has been dismissed only twice in the tournament and scored a classy unbeaten 102 against Bangladesh in the group stages.
Brook has been averaging almost 120 with the bat and has also shown his all-round capabilities by chipping in with two wickets.
QAIS AHMAD (AFGHANISTAN)
With 14 scalps in five matches, the Afghanistan leg-spinner is the leading wicket-taker in the World Cup so far. He was instrumental in his side’s dream run to the semi-finals where they perished at the hands of the Australians.
His best performance came in the quarter-finals against hosts New Zealand where he returned with match-winning figures of 4-33.
ANUKUL ROY (INDIA)
He might not be the leading wicket-taker but with an insane bowling average of 7.91 and an economy rate of just 3.6, India’s left-arm spinner Anukul Roy has been up there with the best.
He was extremely lethal in the group-stages where his 5-15 against Papua New Guinea and 4-20 against Zimbabwe paved the way for some big wins for India.
SHAHEEN AFRIDI (PAKISTAN)
The Pakistan teenager is the latest product to be churned out of the country’s fast-bowling factory and he’s shown he has all the tools to make it big at the senior level.
The left-arm pacer has picked up 12 wickets in five matches at an average of 14.58. The 17-year-old was sensational against the Irish where he ran through their batting order with 6-15.
It has been three days since India beat Bangladesh in the quarter-finals of the ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup on its Republic Day. The Indian colts now get ready to take on arch-rivals Pakistan in what promises to be an enthralling and high-octane affair at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch on Tuesday.
Within the span of these three days, six youngsters from the Indian squad have struck gold in the IPL auction frenzy which culminated on Sunday.
Skipper Prithvi Shaw, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Shubman Gill, Abhishek Sharma and Manjot Kalra have all found takers in the billion-dollar IPL. Express pacer Nagarkoti landed the biggest cash windfall amongst his team-mates after he was snapped up for £357,000 (Dh1.8m) by Kolkata Knight Riders.
It is easy for the youngsters to have their heads turned after raking in the moolah at such an early age but the presence of the legendary Rahul Dravid in the dressing room as coach and mentor had been vital in keeping their feet grounded.
Dravid, no stranger to the madness of the money-laden IPL, is doing his part in ensuring that the focus of the boys remains steady on the clash against Pakistan.
“The auction is not something the boys can control. One or two auctions won’t really have a long-term impact on their careers. There is an auction every year, but not every year will they have an opportunity to play for India in possibly a World Cup semi-final. That doesn’t come very often,” he had said in an interview to Cricinfo ahead of the quarter-final tie.
With the auction now over, Tuesday’s clash is all that matters for the newly minted youngsters like Nagarkoti and Gill.
Speaking to reporters after the IPL auction, Gill said: “It feels very good to get a chance, but it’s important to live in the present and focus on the India-Pakistan semi-final.”
“Dravid sir had a meeting with us. He told us, IPL auction will keep happening every year. Whether you get picked or no, don’t worry about that. Just focus on the Under-19 World Cup because we won’t have this opportunity again in our lives,” Nagarkoti echoed Gill’s sentiments.
With India-Pakistan clashes becoming such a rarity in international cricket, youngsters from both sets of teams will have the weight of their respective countrymen behind them when they line up at the Hagley Oval.
It is India who hold the edge when it comes to previous meetings between the two. Out of the 21 previous clashes, India has prevailed in 12 with Pakistan winning eight while one match ended in a no-result.
Past records however, will have no bearing on the tie as two of cricket’s greatest rivals meet. With both sides in great form, there will be no clear favourites for the clash but a tense and close-fought affair is almost guaranteed.
India and Pakistan clashes are never short of drama and the intensity reaches another level when teenagers are involved. The ICC Under-19 World Cup semi-final on Tuesday will see a clash between the traditional subcontinent rivals and the eyes of fans in the two countries and across the globe will be on the game.
While victory will mean an entry into the final, brilliant individual performances will get noticed by senior management. With that in mind, here are the three key match-ups at the India-Pakistan semi-final.
PRITHVI SHAW v HASAN KHAN
The captains have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. They have to keep their players focused, deliver themselves and also ensure players don’t cross the line in the heat of the moment.
While Shaw has been wonderful at the top, hitting 191 runs from three innings, Hasan has chipped in with seven wickets from four games and reached double digits with the bat in every innings. How they handle the pressure of an India-Pakistan game will prove their leadership skills.
SHUBMAN GILL v ALI ZARYAB
India top order batsman is on a high. He has accumulated 239 runs from just three games and now also has an IPL contract worth $280,000. The lanky batsman uses his reach to good effect and can easily clear the infield.
Zaryab was hailed as ‘The Wall’ of the Pakistan team by captain Hasan after the middle-order batsman hit an unbeaten 74 against South Africa in the quarter-final. Has 163 runs from three outings so far.
Ali Zaryab propels Pakistan into the #U19CWC Super League semi-finals! His calm 74 underpins a steady chase of 190, South Africa defeated by 3 wickets with 13 balls remaining in Christchurch!#PAKvSA scorecard ➡️ https://t.co/tnqGrv3lmm pic.twitter.com/NqE20lq6vo— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) January 24, 2018
KAMLESH NAGARKOTI v SHAHEEN AFRIDI
The biggest showdown of them all. Two of the quickest bowlers in the tournament and the most exciting prospects in the world.
India pacer Kamlesh Nagarkoti has created a buzz in the cricketing world by clocking speeds over 145kph on a regular basis at the U19 World Cup. His breathtaking pace and spot-on yorkers have earned him seven wickets from four matches. He will surely crank it up for the big game.
While Nagarkoti was a bit of an unknown name before the World Cup, Afridi had already made a name for himself by capturing nine wickets in his first-class debut and drawing comparisons with fellow left-arm quick Mitchell Starc. The 6’5” left-arm quick will give it his all to make an impression against India.
This fantastic delivery from Kamlesh Nagarkoti that ripped out off-stump and sealed India's place in the #U19CWC semis was voted yesterday's @Nissan Play of the Day!— ICC (@ICC) January 27, 2018
Watch and vote each day at https://t.co/omsDy1R5hV! pic.twitter.com/f99Y60X9yG