The Indian Under-19 cricket team reached its fourth successive World Cup final by comprehensively beating Australia in the semi-final, thanks to a captain’s knock by Yash Dhull. The Dhull-led team will now be up against an English side that has surprised many a cricket pundit to reach its first ever Under-19 World Cup final in 24 years.
Although there is nothing to distinguish between the two teams in terms of experience — as both have players who haven’t been exposed to foreign conditions and oppositions much — but the fact that India has performed consistently well in the past, making seven finals out of the nine conducted since 2006, makes the boys in blue an automatic Goliath. The English side, on the other hand, will be playing its first final since it won the second edition of the tournament in 1998.
However, does does guarantee India an outright win in the final match on February 5? All that eventually matters is whether one team can play to its true potential on the given date or not. India has been at the receiving end of many such stories, with just one bad day ruining the entire tournament for it. The biggest case in point is its loss against Bangladesh in the last edition of the World Cup in 2020.
So, to make sure that the same story is not repeated, the Indian colts would be itching to put their best foot forward. At the other end, the English have the opportunity of a lifetime to beat a team that hasn’t even had to sweat properly throughout the tournament to reach the final.
The Indian team is coached by one of the greatest Test batters ever, VVS Laxman, and it has as members of its staff the people who trained the 2018 U19 World Cup-winning team as well. The Indian side is also coming on the back of an Asia Cup victory. So, the boys in blue have a pedigree suggesting victory as the only thing to seek when taking the field.
England has also been unbeaten in this tournament so far and it shocked the defending champion in a one-sided affair in its opening game. But before this world cup, it lost to Sri Lanka 3-2 in a Youth ODI series and lost two games against West Indies in a six-match series at home.
So, when compared with the Indian team, the English do not look like favourites. But they have already stunned one of last year’s two finalist, Bangladesh. So, there should be no doubts about their ability to humble the other as well.
In terms of wins and losses, both teams stand as equals in this tournament. Neither has dropped even a single point and both have registered massive wins against minnows in their group encounters. In the quarterfinals, England went past South Africa nwith ease, much like India got past Bangladesh.
But it was the semi-final that saw the true test of England’s character. Playing against Afghanistan, England was almost on the verge of losing, with two set Afghan batters — Bilal Ahmad and Abdul Hadi — in the middle. They needed 76 runs from 75 balls with five wickets in hand. But, skipper Tom Prest’s brave move to introduce leg spinner Rehan Ahmed paid off. Ahmed took all the four wickets that fell after his reintroduction and helped his team win the match by 15 runs.
The toughest game for the Indian team so far has been its first match of the tournament against South Africa. But its 45-run victory margin even while defending only 232 showed that match wasn’t as hard-fought as England’s semi-final clash.
Another advantage that the Indian team can and should be looking to is its familiarity with the spinning tracks of West Indies. India spinner Vicky Ostwal has picked up 12 wickets in five games. In batting too, India’s Angkrish Raghuvanshi has scored 278 runs at an average of 55 in five games.
But the Englishmen aren’t alien to these conditions, either. Captain Tom Prest is the second-highest run-getter in the tournament, with 292 runs under his belt at an average of 73 and a highest score of 154*.
The English bowlers, on the other hand, are also among the brightest in this tournament. Rehan Ahmed and pacer Josh Boyden have bagged 25 wickets between them. Boyden has scalped 13 in five games.
It has been seen in the two games against both South Africa and Australia that Indians have struggled against pace bowling and Boyden & Co will test the Indians as North Sound provides swing in the early hours of both innings.
Lastly, it would all come down to handling pressure on the big day. India has not been tested yet in the way it should have been, apart from the first game against the junior Proteas.
On the other hand, the English are coming on the back of a huge win, having surmounted a pressure-cooker situation. Whenever India has got into trouble, captain Dhull or vice-captain Shaik Rashid has rescued it. But supposing they both fail, what would happen?
It is this very situation that India needs to be focusing on. But with the kind of competition Indian players would have faced just to get into the national team, given the cricket craze in the country, they would be more than willing to give their best and make sure they get past that last hurdle.
And England, especially after having overcome a tricky challenger in Afghanistan, would be itching to do a David versus Goliath India, and its current form and willingness to surpass the expectations in every game suggest that it is capable of springing surprises.
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