One thing needs to be said upfront: so far at this Under-19 World Cup, no game has been as highly anticipated as the last quarter-final, between Afghanistan and Pakistan in Benoni.
There are plenty of reasons why the knockout fixture between the two teams is set to be a cracker.They are neighbouring countries, and geo-political relations between them have been strained for quite a while now. As recently as at the 2019 50-over World Cup in England and Wales, the match between them at Headingley featured fans throwing punches at each other in the stands, rubbish, bottles, and even a rubbish bin being chucked around, and fans invading the pitch as soon as the match got over. There were unsavoury scenes outside the stadium too.Cricket-wise, it’s a contest between two very evenly-matched teams. “The match is winning the World Cup for us; we are cool with [exiting in the] semi-final, as long as we win tomorrow.” That isn’t an official quote but that sentiment, expressed by a travelling Afghan fan, could be the prevailing feeling in the team camp. One hopes that the stump mics are turned up for this contest, for a lot of passion and emotion will be on show. Oh, and the winner faces another neighbour in the semi-final: India. And the political history there is, well, a bit iffy too.
Back to the tournament, and the two teams are facing off because Afghanistan finished top of Group D while Pakistan finished runners-up in Group C. But don’t let the standings fool you. While Afghanistan steamrolled all opposition, including hosts South Africa in the tournament opener, one can say Pakistan finished second – behind Bangladesh – in their group only because of a washout. Bangladesh were tottering at 106 for 9 when that game was called off, Pakistan falling second in the group on net run-rate.