From the land of Asif, Aaqib Javed and Rana Naved, 15-year-old Ali Raza makes waves at U19 World Cup
Ali Raza's 4/34 in the U19 World Cup semi-final against Australia may not have been enough for Pakistan but he is one for the future.
Ian Bishop could not stop raving about Ali Raza. "He is a superstar. He really is in the making. I will remember his spell," he said during commentary in the U19 World Cup semi-final between Pakistan and Australia. What makes the 15-year-old Pakistan pacer's performance even more special is that it did not come in a winning cause and yet was worth remembering. Yes, Australia edged out Pakistan by one wicket in an edge-of-the-seat thriller but it was Raza who made a name for himself.
Harry Dixon and Sam Konstas got Australia off to a slow, steady start chasing a paltry 180 but Pakistan made a roaring comeback after the Powerplay overs.
And it was Raza who started it all. He cleaned up Konstas with a delivery that nipped back in sharply to hit the stumps. Weibgen smashed a full toss straight to short cover off Naveed Khan to depart for four and a massive mix-up between Harjas Singh and Dixon saw the end of the former.
With three wickets falling quickly, Baig turned to strike bowler Ubaid Shah and the move worked. The dangerous Ryan Hicks was bowled off an inside edge for a golden duck as Australia slipped to a tense 59 for four.
Dixon was joined by the left-handed Ollie Peake, who has had to bat only two times in the competition before this. The two left-handers went about rebuilding the innings as Pakistan looked to attack further.
Dixon completed his half-century in the 24th over as Peake settled in at the other end. Minhas’ entry into the attack saw the back of Dixon. The left-arm spinner had the well-set Dixon cleaned up for 50 with a delivery that turned massively back into the batter.
Runs dried up as Minhas and Naveed Khan kept things pretty tight. Raza returned to the attack after Naveed was bowled out and almost instantly found a wicket. Tom Campbell’s edge was found but the ball raced over the keeper for a boundary, the first for Australia in nine overs.
Minhas, meanwhile, continued to bowl unchanged from his end and in his eighth over, the left-arm spinner struck again. Campbell was undone by an arm ball that skidded on with the angle and hit the stumps.
With another threatening stand broken, Pakistan were back into the contest. Australia were still 34 runs away with four wickets left in the bank. Raza found MacMillan’s edge the very next over with the slip fielder diving to take a catch close to the ground. But confirmation for a clean catch wasn't needed as the ball was over waist height and hence a no-ball.
Peake continued to build, unflustered by the chaos around him, but while on 49, he nicked a harmless Raza delivery, going down the leg-side, through to the wicketkeeper to leave Australia in a tricky position. They were still 25 runs away and Pakistan sensed a way back to win the contest.
Raza added two more in his final over to put Pakistan on the brink of a sensational win, sending back Staker and Beardman to reduce Australia to nine down.
MacMillan continued to fight though and got a lucky top edge over the keeper's head for four in the 48th over with Australia needing less than 10 runs.
Ubaid Shah almost trapped the lower-order batsman in front in the following over, but the umpire dismissed the appeal, judging the ball to be sliding down the leg-side. Vidler then played out the remaining deliveries, reducing the equation to just three runs needed off the last over.
In a nerve-wracking climax, on the first ball of the final over, MacMillan, who looked to punch off his back foot, got an inside edge and the ball raced through fine leg, securing Australia's thrilling victory.
Raza hails from Sheikhupura, a city in Pakistan's Punjab province. The youngster was first spotted by Pakistan U-19 assistant batting coach, Muhammad Masroor when he was 12.
“Raza is a future prospect,” Masroor told The Indian Express. “He hails from Nankana Sahib in Sheikhpura. He has played most of his cricket in the village. He hates going to the gym. He just loves bowling in the nets; you have to literally pull him out. That part of Pakistan has always produced good pacers such as Mohammed Asif, Aaqib Javed, and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. All three were masters of their craft,” said Masroor.
“We were playing a three-day game at the Rana Naved Cricket Academy. In the morning, I saw a young boy wipe and clean the nets with the broom, and bowl for two hours on the trot. During lunch, he rested for an hour and started bowling again. He is that lambi race ka ghoda (in for a long haul). He knows how to bowl long spells that you don’t see in the current pacers. He is not a T20 bowler,” Masroor said.
With 4/34 in the semi-final, Raza proved Masroor right. But the latter feels the youngster needs to be looked after for him to have a bright future.
“Sadly, we don’t have that system for the fast bowlers. We don’t have a proper rehab system. We don’t have good bowling coaches. The biomechanics labs are also not working. Raza indeed is a future superstar, but we all have to take care of him like our own kids.”
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