India will face their sternest test in the pursuit of a third ICC Under-19 World Cup Trophy when they take on formidable defending champions Australia in what promises to be an exciting summit clash of the event here tomorrow.
Patchy in batting with some of their top order batsmen not showing the desired consistency, the Indians will have to raise their game in conditions that have favoured the bowlers at the Tony Ireland Stadium.
India have not quite hit their straps despite the tournament drawing to a close now with not-too-impressive performances in Group C. The Indians followed up a defeat to the West Indies with expected wins against Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea.
Superb bowling performances saw them defeat Pakistan in quarters and New Zeland in the semis but the side has failed to get consistent efforts from their batsmen, with Vijay Zol (150 runs) being India's highest run-scorer.
They have been much better with the ball though, with Kamal Passi (10 wickets) and Sandeep Sharma (8 wickets) leading their attack. The spin duo of Harmeet Singh and Baba Aparajith also proved their worth with economical spells in the nine-run win over New Zealand in the last-four stage.
Batting first is often seen as an advantage in the 50-over format but four countries have pulled off successful run-chases with the side which bats first averaging just 213 runs at the venue.
Skipper Chand will be aiming to become the third India captain to put a hand to the trophy after Mohammad Kaif and Virat Kohli lifted the cup in 2000 and 2008, respectively.
"I am very optimistic about the final. We have played Australia in Australia and that too at the same venue. We are used to the conditions, and should do well," said Chand. He said the team has overcome the sluggish start and is raring to do well in the final.
"The team has peaked at the right time. We did not start well in the competition, but the teamwork can be seen now. It is not that one or two players are carrying the side on their shoulders. Everybody is contributing, and that is why we are in the final.
"I had always visualised qualifying for the final and playing Australia in the same. Australia is a good side, and so are we. The summit clash should be a competitive encounter. We will do our best to return home with the Cup," he said.
Only Australia's Cameron Bancroft and Zimbabwe's Malcolm Lake have scored centuries at the venue. But India have a successful history at the event, having won it in 2000 and 2008. A disappointing result in 2010 saw the team finish sixth, losing the quarter-final to Pakistan.
Winner of the inaugural event in 1988, played in Australia, the host team has won the World Cup three times. Australia U19s clinched the trophy in 2002 and then again in 2010, when they beat tournament favourites Pakistan in the final by 25 runs.
The team will be hopeful of defending the title on home soil, and, if they do, they will become only the second country after Pakistan to win back-to-back titles.
Australia captain Will Bosisto said playing India is the final will be a big challenge. "India has strong top-order batting, and the five bowlers it has are really consistent. It will be a tough challenge for us. India has been much like us in a way as it has managed to get over the line without perhaps playing its best cricket. So, it will be a great challenge for us on Sunday.
"All the boys are rapt and ready to go. Obviously, it is pretty exciting for us to be in a final. There will be lots of people watching us on TV and at the ground so it is a big occasion for us," he said.
"We have played India a fair bit over the past year or so, but I don't think we can read too much into past results. The conditions are probably a little bit different than they were in April and we have a few changes to our side as have they," he added.
Their batting has so far relied on the consistency of opener Bancroft and number four Kurtis Patterson, who missed out on a half century by one run in the narrow win over South Africa in the semifinals.
Bowlers have enjoyed the conditions on offer with pace duo of Gurinder Sandhu (9 wickets) and Mark Steketee (7 wickets) being the key men for the home team.
Match starts at 5 am (IST).
India: Unmukt Chand (c), Akshdeep Nath, Manan Vohra, Akhil Herwadkar, Vijay Zol, Sandipan Das, B Aparajith, Prashant Chopra, Sandeep Sharma, Kamal Passi, Rush Kalaria, Mohsin Sayyed, Smit Patel, Harmeet Singh, Vikas Mishra.
Australia: William Bosisto (c), Ashton Agar, Cameron Bancroft, Meyrick Buchanan, Harry Conway, Sam Hain, Travis Head, Joel Paris, Kurtis Patterson, James Peirson, Gurinder Sandhu, Mark Steketee, Nicholas Stevens, Ashton Turner, Jack Wildermuth.