The first semi-final of the 2022 Under-19 World Cup will feature two teams, who in many ways, play just like their senior sides do. England are the side that bat aggressively, while Afghanistan have tied a web around other teams with their spinners.
However, both teams have had largely different paths to the semi-final. England reached the West Indies early. They played the warm-ups, beat Bangladesh in their competition opener, and have not looked back since.
Therefore, the two sides are in wildly different headspaces. England have been dominant. They rolled Bangladesh over for 97, made 320 and 362 against Canada and UAE, and chased a target against South Africa inside 32 overs.
Afghanistan, though, have been tested, more than once. Against Pakistan, they could not go over the line, but they defended 200 against a talented Zimbabwe side. Lessons from both those games came to use against Sri Lanka in the first knockout game, where they successfully defended 134. That Sri Lanka game gave Afghanistan the sinking feeling of how being eliminated may feel, but most importantly, provided the redemption arc that gives them the belief that they can crawl out of any situation on the field.
As expected, Afghanistan are reliant on their spinners, led by left-arm wristspinner Noor Ahmad, playing his second tournament and also in the radar for the upcoming IPL auction. Izharulhaq Naveed provides legspin, and together the two have taken 15 wickets. Throw in left-arm spinner Nangeyalia Kharote’s seven wickets, and Afghanistan have a formidable 30 overs of spin to test England.
But standing in their way is England’s swashbuckling batting line-up. Their captain Tom Prest has smacked the second-highest score of the competition. Barbados-born Jacob Bethell scored an outrageous 44-ball 82 in the quarter-final against South Africa. And William Luxton, from the middle order, averages 70+ at a strike-rate of almost 120. If England’s batting plays out 50 overs, they will be favourites to take the win.
That’s because Afghanistan’s batting is frail. Papua New Guinea bowled them out for 200, and the Sri Lanka game showed that playing quick seamers isn’t a strength either. And England have plenty of challenging bowlers, with left-arm quick Joshua Boyden leading the way with his 12 wickets, followed by legspinner Rehan Ahmed who have both produced match-winning spells.
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In the spotlight
No injury news in either team, and both are expected to field their strongest XIs. If the pitch shows cracks, England could throw in spinning allrounder Fateh Singh into the mix.
England (possible): 1 George Thomas, 2 Jacob Bethell, 3 Tom Prest (capt), 4 James Rew, 5 William Luxton, 6 George Bell, 7, Rehan Ahmed, 8 Alex Horton (wk), 9 Thomas Aspinwall, 10 James Sales, 11 Joshua Boyden
Afghanistan (possible): 1 Bilal Sayedi, 2 Nangeyalia Kharote, 3 Allah Noor, 4 Suliman Safi (capt), 5 Ijaz Ahmad Ahmadzai, 6 Abdul Hadi, 7 Mohammad Ishaq (wk), 8 Noor Ahmad, 9 Izharulhaq Naveed, 10 Bilal Sami, 11 Naveed Zadran
Pitch and conditions
The scores have gotten lower as the tournament has moved on, and there’s a bit of rain expected. If the match is washed out, or no result is possible, then England would qualify into the final because of their better group-stage performance.
Stats and trivia
Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx