The West Indies upset defending champions India in the final of the ICC U19 World Cup, an incredible feat for a region whose cricket is in turmoil. I look back at some of the key moments of a final, which the world hopes will trigger a revival of cricket in the Caribbean islands.
Toss ka boss:
“If you win the toss, bat first. If the wicket is green, think about it for a minute, and then still bat first.”
This philosophy, attributed to various Australian captains over the years, was in much bandied about back in 2003, when India won the toss in a World Cup final and decided to field first. Australia, who today have a 73% win ratio when they bat first in World Cups, duly went on to score a record 359, and won their second consecutive trophy.
So you would think that when West Indies U19 captain Shimron Hetmyer won only his first toss in the tournament, he would prefer the security of getting runs on the board in a final.
He went with history (the West Indies Sr. team have fielded first 19 out of 27 times in World Cups). He went with the conditions (the pitch had more grass on it than any in the tournament). He went with his strengths (his new ball bowlers were doing well).
He took the risk of fielding first, against the strongest batting line up in the tournament. Boy, did it pay off!
The West Indies pace bowlers made full use of the grass on the wicket and the moisture the morning session offered to reduce India to three for 27 in the seventh over.
Alzarri Joseph, who with 13 wickets was a contender for Man of the tournament, got the ball to rise consistently off the pitch.
He was consistently bowling in the mid 130kmph range, with the odd ball nudging 140. His dismissal of the in-form Anmolpreet Singh — caught behind as a rising delivery found the shoulder of his bat — would have made Michael Holding proud.
His tactics were a throwback to those of Holding and his contemporaries as well. He kept the batters on the back foot with well-directed short balls (that the keeper regularly collected above head height), and then slipped in the odd full delivery.
It was this tactic that undid the Indian captain Ishan Kishan, as he was trapped LBW (albeit replays showed that the ball had pitched outside leg). It was fire in Babylon all over again.
There was no relief at the other end, or from the support bowlers either. Chemar Holder (1-20) kept things quiet, and then Ryan John (3-38), Shamar Springer (1-24) and Keemo Paul (2-17) bowled to their fields and picked up wickets at regular intervals.
The West Indian spinners had conceded 60 runs in 12 overs in the semi-final without taking a wicket. Hetmyer shrewdly did not use them at all in the final, a rare occurrence, as his five fast bowlers combined to bowl India out for 145. It helped that India were bowled out in the 46th over.
No one does badly on purpose, and every player wants to win. But some Indian players seemed a bit complacent coming into this final. India were the favourites, the three-time U19 champions, defending champs, and unbeaten through the tournament.
And they were and up against a team who had been beaten 0-3 by Bangladesh prior to the World Cup.
The signs appeared in the second half of the semi-final against Sri Lanka, when the match was well and truly in India’s bag.
A few fielding lapses, a few dropped chances crept in and marred what had been an excellent fielding display throughout the tournament.
And the manner in which Rishabh Pant was dismissed in the first over of the final — stumped when he was careless enough to stray out of his crease too long — suggested that some complacency had been carried over into the final.
India’s below-par performance in the field also hurt them. In low scoring matches, it is almost always the side who fields better that ins.
While the West Indies were brilliant in their fielding effort, Indian skipper Kishan was disappointed with his team’s performance.
In the post match presentation, Kishan said “(our) fielding was good at the beginning but later we dropped some catches”.
With the West Indies in trouble at 77 for five, the Indian spinners, Mayank Dagar (3-25) in particular, were bowling well.
Indians were just one wicket away from the West Indies tail when Paul and Keacy Carty combined.
Carty’s previous best score in the tournament had been just 22.
But India’s fielding let them down. Both Carty and Paul were dropped — Carty by wicketkeeper Pant and Paulby Sarfaraz Khan at slip (on 10).
However no credit can be taken away from the Windies batters, especially Carty. He produced a Man of the Match performance (52* off 125 balls) to steer his team to their maiden U19 World Cup title.
Life comes full circle for Keemo Paul:
Keemo Paul went from being the villain at this World Cup to the man who bailed out his side in the title match and hit the winning runs.
His unbeaten 40 (82 balls) made sure that the West Indies had no more hiccups in their chase.
It was a far cry from a week ago, when cricketing greats and plebeian opinion alike had flayed his actions on social media, when he resorted to a ‘mankad’ to seal a quarter-final berth against Zimbabwe.
Despite using a perfectly legitimate mode of dismissal, Paul was widely — and in my opinion, wrongly- criticised for breaching the Spirit of the Game.
With social media amplifying any criticism, it could have overwhelmed Paul, who it must be remembered, is just a teenager.
But it seemed to steel him, as he became a crucial cog in the Windes juggernaut in the knockout phases.
Just as the dark hours before dawn are forgotten at first light, his contributions with both bat and ball in the final will ensure that in the eyes of posterity, he will be famous rather than infamous.