Rehan Ahmed three-for in the penultimate over helps England crawl out of difficult position

England 231 for 6 (Bell 56*, Horton 53*, Thomas 50, Noor 2-32) beat Afghanistan 215 for 9 (Allah 60, Ishaq 43, Rehan 4-41) by 15 runs (DLS method)

The first semi-final between two sets of nervous teenagers had it all. Broken stumps, dropped catches, run-outs, six-hitting cameos, a five-ball over, and a catch off a no-ball. England, though, held their nerve, and despite all their errors, crossed the line to reach their first U-19 World Cup final in 24 years.

Afghanistan, chasing a spot in their very first ICC World Cup final, lost out in key moments. After getting England six down for only 136, Afghanistan could not end the innings well with the ball, conceding 95 in the last 12 overs. Then, two of their top four batters were out for ducks in a chase of 231.

But late in the contest, Afghanistan were offered a backdoor pass into the match when England seamer James Sales had a horrific start to the 44th over. At that stage, Afghanistan needed 43 in four overs, but Sales conceded 10 runs courtesy two no-balls – the first of which also cost him a wicket – before delivering a legal ball, and by the end of the over, the equation was down to 23 off 18.

However, left-arm seamer Joshua Boyden bowled a tight 45th, and legspinner Rehan Ahmed took three wickets in the 46th to book England’s spot in Saturday’s final against India or Australia.
It was a brave call from England captain Tom Prest to bat first in cloudy conditions, and the opener George Thomas rode on some good fortune to smack a 69-ball 50. He survived getting dropped by Noor Ahmad, but the Afghan left-arm wristspinner eventually got him out.

Thomas’ wicket, though, was the fourth to go down, with England losing Jacob Bethell, Prest and James Rew for meagre contributions. Naveed Zadran and Nangeyalia Kharote had made the early breakthroughs, before legspinner Izharulhaq Naveed dismissed William Luxton for 11. A lengthy rain break gave England a chance to regroup, but when Rehan fell after a 44-ball resistance, England were 136 for 6 and in trouble.

That’s when George Bell and Alex Horton linked up to drag England to 231. Bell was more orthodox of the two, and hit six fours in his unbeaten 56. Horton smacked a breezy 36-ball 53 to give England the momentum at the break.

England’s defense of 231 – target adjusted after DLS – began in a near-perfect manner when Boyden had Kharote out for a duck. Known for swinging the new ball, Boyden’s cutter had the batter through his shot too early and his stumps were left flattened.

However, Mohammad Ishaq and Allah Noor (60) led Afghanistan’s recovery with a 93-run stand hovering at around four runs per over. Even though they did hit five sixes and eight fours between them, the stand had its periods of slow cricket with pressure from England’s bowlers, especially spinner Bethell. Eventually the pressure of a rising required run rate finally broke the stand when Ishaq was run out on 43 while responding to a quick single.
Afghanistan needed another good stand to follow, but Thomas Aspinwall got in their way. He took two wickets in his first spell, including that of Allah, to expose Afghanistan’s lower-middle order. Even though Bilal Ahmad hit 33 in 34 balls, Afghanistan’s last roll of the dice was the partnership between Abdul Hadi and Noor Ahmad to take them over the line.

Noor quickly got down to clearing the boundary with his strong hits as England briefly lost their way. Then came the Sales over that razed 20 runs off the target, leaving Afghanistan needing 7.67 per over to win with three overs to go. Boyden, though, made his presence felt with a four-run over, and Rehan made the most of the rising pressure to run through the tail with three wickets in the 46th. With only one wicket in hand, 18 off Boyden’s final over was too much for Afghanistan to achieve.

Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx