x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

This cricket rivalry with Australia is not quite like seniors, says South African captain

Captain of the only unbeaten side remaining in the tournament is grounded in comparison with senior sides as Australia hope to ride over hiccups.

South Africa Under 19s were clinical in their victory over Afghanistan on Sunday, February 23, 2014. They are two more wins away from the title, which will be a cherished one after two failed attempts in the final at this level. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
South Africa Under 19s were clinical in their victory over Afghanistan on Sunday, February 23, 2014. They are two more wins away from the title, which will be a cherished one after two failed attempts in the final at this level. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

DUBAI // The ideal situation for the second semi-final of the U19 World Cup would be that the junior sides of Australia and South Africa come together and provide the kind of intense, absorbing cricket their senior brethren are providing currently in South Africa.

That rivalry, at senior level, has been among the best of any over the last couple of decades, full of high-octane cricket and gripping encounters; so high is the quality that even one-sided results, such as the last two Tests, make for compelling viewing.

At the U19 level, as the South Africa captain Aiden Markram conceded, it does not quite have the same feel to it yet.

“You could say it does add a bit more to it, but I don’t think it really affects us that much as we haven’t played them often enough to develop that rivalry yet,” he said.

“I think it is like that in the senior team, because they’ve played each other for quite some time.

“There will be some rivalry and some heat but, at the end of the day, we are here to play cricket and just do what we love.”

One reason Markram can afford to sound unconcerned by any notions of rivalry is that his side remains the only undefeated one of the three teams left.

Beat Australia today and only Pakistan stands between them and a first world title, which, given the well-known travails of the senior side at ICC events, would be some achievement.

As it is, with losses in two U19 finals, South Africa would not mind getting rid of that monkey on their back. They have worked their way through the group stages and quarter-final with precisely the lack of fuss their senior sides have often shown. As ever though, Australia is a different level.

“We played Australia in India in September,” Markram said. “They always manage to field a very strong side. There’s nothing that can be taken for granted against a side like that. Being a semi-final, it will just add to it. We’re very excited and we’re going to be up for the challenge.”

Australia’s path has been a little less straightforward. They were surprised by Afghanistan in the group stage and had to rely on Bangladesh essentially knocking themselves out in the last group game. Though they got through fairly comfortably in the quarter-final, their momentum was almost undone by one of the great individual innings at this level.

“South Africa are a very strong team and we just need to go out and perform and hopefully it will come good for us,” said Alex Gregory, Australia’s captain, ahead of the game.

But Gregory knows his team is coming to life at the right time. Their opening bowlers, Billy Stanlake and Guy Walker, have been outstanding.

If their batting looks fragile sometimes, then Jake Doran has already conducted a couple of classy rescue missions, doubling as the ideal finisher’s innings.

Eerily it is feeling like a repeat of the famous 1999 World Cup semi-final between the two senior sides. South Africa came in like a well-grooved machine, Australia spluttering their way through but getting better by the day.

It ended in a tie, one of the greatest games of all time.

That day, on a technicality, Australia went through.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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