“I don’t think we played our ‘Number-One’ game in the final, even though we got the result we needed,” said Rahul Dravid, then the India U19 cricket coach, in his first media interaction after winning the U19 World Cup in 2018.
In many ways, it is the reflection of the method the team has adapted over the past few years. In the last three U19 World Cups, the Indian team has lost just one match – the final in 2016 – out of 17 matches. They have managed to be on the right side of the result, despite not playing their best game on multiple occasions.
As India takes on Bangladesh on Sunday in their seventh appearance in a U19 World Cup final, they would want to play to the fullest of their abilities in order to defend the title.
Road to the final
India has dominated every opponent so far in the ongoing tournament. Also, it has not been a one-man-show, as different players have performed well in different matches. Barring Yashasvi Jaiswal, who is the leading run-scorer of the tournament, there isn’t a single Indian batsman in the top 20 of highest run scorers in the tournament. Rahul Bishnoi, who ranks fourth among the leading wicket-takers, is one of the two bowlers in the top 15 rankings along with Kartik Tyagi ranked nine.
The most significant reason to India’s success is the lower order’s contribution with the bat. Siddhesh Veer’s knock against Sri Lanka, Bishnoi and Atharva Ankolekar’s partnership in the quarterfinal against Australia are as good as Jaiswal’s contribution at the top.
Though Bishnoi is the leading wicket-taker for India, Tyagi has been the standout bowler. He has taken 11 wickets in five matches at an average of 10.9, giving away just 3.49 runs per over. His attitude towards the game has been his biggest strength. Tyagi said on ESPNCricinfo that he got wickets in the earlier matches, despite bowling poorly; when he took 4-43 against Australia in the quarterfinals, it was satisfying for him because he had bowled well. His performances in the knockout games so far have been crucial for India.
Playing the opponent
After finishing third in the 2016 edition, Bangladesh did not have a great U19 World Cup in 2018. However, they have turned it around this year in South Africa. Aside from the washed-out match against Pakistan, Bangladesh has outplayed every other opponent they met.
With both the left-hand openers coming good in the semifinal, India would not want to change their combination. But, they also need to be wary of the Bangladesh off-spinner Shamim Hossain, who has been used in the powerplay overs against left-handed openers. If the Indian openers can see off the new ball, they can capitalise in the middle-overs against the two left-arm spinners, who have been the strength of the opposition.
Handling Knock-out Pressure
The Indian colts have fared decently in the knockouts over the years. Of the 25 finals they have played, India has won 22 matches with a win percentage of 88%. They always seem to come out on top under pressure situations in comparison to their contemporaries. In hindsight, it can be attributed to the large pool of players they compete with to get into the India U19 team.
Against Bangladesh, India u19 has lost only three matches out of 22 with a win percentage of 81.81%. Playing their first World Cup finals, Bangladesh colts should forget everything else and treat it like just another game. They might have to handle pressure better than their senior team has done in the past.
Priyam Garg has done exceedingly well in leading the Indian colts so far. He does not have much runs to show in front of his name, but his on-field tactics have been spot-on. Though Bangladesh has successfully chased in all three matches in this World Cup, India might want to put them under pressure by making them chase again in the final. It all comes down to handling the nerves in a high-pressure situation and the Indian colts might just have an edge over Bangladesh and it is reflecting in the players attitude.
“Winning a World Cup will matter so much because a lot of emotion has gotten attached to this event now. We played 31 matches together as a team ahead of the World Cup, so the only thing in my mind is to win it – that’s all. Moving ahead, the pressure will only increase,” said Tyagi ahead of the semifinal clash against Pakistan. Now they have to win only one hurdle between them and the trophy.