Mirpur (Bangladesh), Feb 1: Rishabh Pant hit a whirlwind 78 off 24 balls as India topped Group D with a seven-wicket demolition of second placed Nepal in the ICC Under-19 cricket World Cup here on Monday.
The left-handed opener smashed five sixes and nine boundaries, adding 124 for the first wicket with captain Ishan Kishan (52) in just 9.1 overs as India chased down Nepal's 169/8 in the 19th over. Pant's 50 off 18 balls is the fastest recorded half-century in the history of U-19 internationals.
India's emphatic victory was set up by fast bowler Avesh Kumar, who claimed 3/34. Mayank Dagar and Washington Sundar supported him well with two wickets each.
The Rahul Dravid-coached India topped Group D with an all-win record and now face the second placed team from Group A - Bangladesh or Namibia - in the Super League quarter-final in Fatullah on February 6.
Qualifier Nepal, who knocked out defending champions South Africa from the Super League, await the winner of Tuesday's clash between Bangladesh and Namibia in the quarter-final here on February 5.
Pant said he was disappointed to miss out on a century, admitting that he became nervous as he approached the mark.
"I am obviously not happy that I could not get a 100 mainly because I got a little nervous thinking that I may set a new record. It was a good pitch for batting and I was able to go through my shots," he said.
India captain Kishan was delighted with the comprehensive win and Pant's spectacular stroke play.
"The way Pant was going for his shots, I was worried I may not get enough runs of my own. I am really pleased with the way we won today because it was a low scoring game which is usually tough to win," Kishan said.
Asked if India will prefer to face Bangladesh or Namibia in the quarter-final, Kishan said: "It does not matter whom we play as long as we stick to our strengths and get the basics right."
Nepal captain Raju Rijal said his team had been taught a lesson on what to expect when playing against superior sides.
"The competition in the quarter-finals will obviously be very tough and today's match was a good experience for us. We need to work harder and try and do our best in the remaining games," said Rijal.
New Zealand, smarting from two losses against India and Nepal, took third place in Group D after a four-wicket win against Ireland in Fatullah. Rachin Ravindra and skipper Josh Finnie picked up three wickets each as New Zealand bowled out Ireland for 212 and then won in the 41st over after Finn Allen scored 97 and Dale Phillips made 58.
Afghanistan finished third in Group B with a four-wicket win over Canada in Sylhet. Muslim Musa and Shamsurrahman Wali took three wickets each as Afghanistan bowled out Canada for 147 and then rode on Tariq Stanikzai's 56 to surpass the target in the 25th over.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka, who have already qualified for the Super League quarter-finals, face-off here on Wednesday to determine the group winner.
Teams which do not make the Super League will feature in the eight-nation Plate championships.
Nepal 169/8 in 48 overs: (Sandeep Sunar 37, Rajbir Singh 35; Avesh Khan 3/34, Mayank Dagar 2/32, Washington Sundar 2/20) lost to India 175/3 in 18.1 overs (Rishabh Pant 78, Ishan Kishan 52).