South Africa finished runner-up in the 2002 and 2008 tournaments while Pakistan remains the only side to win back-to-back titles. (Getty Images)
Dubai: South Africa will aim to break the title drought when they lock horns with two-time champion Pakistan in the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup final at Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Saturday.
South Africa finished runner-up in the 2002 and 2008 tournaments while Pakistan remains the only side to win back-to-back titles when they triumphed in 2004 and 2006 in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka respectively.
On head to head, the two sides have met only once in the history of this competition when South Africa defeated Pakistan by 98 runs according to the Duckworth-Lewis Method in Kuala Lumpur in 2008.
South Africa is the only side which is unbeaten so far in the World Cup. They defeated the West Indies by 94 runs, Canada by 45 runs, Zimbabwe by seven wickets, Afghanistan by nine wickets in the quarter-final and Australia by 80 runs in the semi-final.
In contrast, Pakistan started their campaign with a 40-run defeat against India and then achieved victory from the jaws of defeat against England in the semi-final by three wickets. In between, they beat Scotland by 146 runs, Papua New Guinea by 145 runs and Sri Lanka in the quarter-final by 121 runs.
Pakistan`s run in the tournament has been dominated by captain Sami Aslam and Imam-ul-Haq, the two openers who have featured in three century partnerships to date. The left-handers have hit one century and five half-centuries between them.
Imam, who has recovered from a hamstring injury and will play on Saturday, is the tournament`s second leading run-getter with 370 runs, while Sami sits in 11th position with 242 runs. Hasan Raza with 135 runs and Saud Shakeel 123 runs are the other notable Pakistan batsmen.
In the bowling, only Karamat Ali has been a consistent performer with 11 wickets so far. He is followed by Zafar Gohar and Zia-ul-Haq, who have picked up eight wickets apiece.
Sami, speaking at his pre-final media conference at the ICC Headquarters, insisted his side was peaking at the right time.
"Imam and I may have done bulk of the scoring at the top of the order, but the middle and lower middle-order fired in the crucial match against England and got us home. I think everything is coming together and we`re peaking at the right time," Sami said.
"Saturday will be the day in which we`ll feature in the most important match of our lives. Yes, there will be pressure but I think we have the players who can sustain it and perform to their potential."
South Africa captain Aiden Markram is the man who has struck form at right time. The 19-year-old from Centurion hit back-to-back centuries against Zimbabwe and Afghanistan and now has 304 runs against his name.
Yaseen Valli is the other batsman who has shown consistency with the bat. He has hit a century and two half-centuries in four innings.
Fast bowler Kabada was almost unplayable in the semi-final against Australia where he picked up six for 25. Justin Dill has provided excellent support to the South Africa bowling attack and has claimed 10 wickets so far, while Valli has displayed his all-round skills by also claiming nine wickets.
Markram said he was looking forward to tomorrow`s final.
"Its massive for us to be playing in this final," he said.
"We acknowledge that history has not quite gone our way, but I still feel that we can`t really focus
too much on winning. Our focus is on the process and getting there. Execution of our game plan tomorrow and our skills will be vital and hopefully the result can take care of itself."
Markram admitted his fast bowlers will be targeting the in-form Pakistan openers.