As the dust settles, Firstpost sits down with Saxena to review the U-19 World Cup: the lessons learnt, the win over Pakistan, what went wrong in the final and what transpired after that, and much more.
"Itni aasani se nahi bhul sakta hai koi. (You cannot forget it easily)"
It's been five days since the India U-19 team lost in the World Cup final against Bangladesh. It's been a couple of days since they have landed in the country, but the disappointment is still lingering. Divyaansh Saxena, who opened the batting for India hasn't fully gotten over the loss. They are still in the recuperation phase.
"We knew that we were the favourites so it hurts more, if Bangladesh had lost, they wouldn't have felt so bad. For the last one and half years, our main aim was to win the World Cup at any cost."
Saxena though had a decent campaign ending up as second-highest run-getter for India with 150 runs at an average of 50 and was one of the heroes of the win against Pakistan where he scored an unbeaten 59 and took a brilliant catch. He, along with his opening partner Yashasvi Jaiswal, often built strong foundation and amassed the most runs for the opening wicket (401 runs at 133.66).
Yes, they couldn't bring home the trophy but there were plenty of positives to be drawn from the campaign. Firstpost sat down with Saxena to review the World Cup: the lessons learnt, the win over Pakistan, what went wrong in the final and the fracas that transpired after the defeat, and much more.
What was the biggest learning from the U-19 World Cup?
I learnt a lot by watching others, where I lack and what all I can improve technically. As a team, we learnt that we can be more humble when we win matches. Like now, when I play matches in the future and if my team wins a crunch match, I will know how to react, I don't have to go over the top because when you get that reaction from the opposition, you feel really bad and we shouldn't follow that when we win. This was the biggest learning for me.
So you are talking in the context of the final?
Yes. When your team loses and when you get a reaction from the opposition where they are bad-mouthing on your face then it feels really bad. We also might have done this, it's not that we haven't done it, but we don't go over the top like this. So, I've got a personal lesson that every time you have to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. And if I get a chance, I will try and tell the team that we should be humble. Yes, celebrate but within yourselves. It's a game and in the end, you shake hands.
What exactly happened after the final?
It was turning out to be a crunch match and the moment the tone of the match was set from that time only they had started (going over the top). At first they tried to hit me on the head with a throw and they were going on and on. I don't know whether it was their planning or something. So, the emotions were running high, there was a lot of crowd and everyone was emotional about the match. They hadn't won such a big tournament. So when they won, they entered the ground and started bad-mouthing on players' faces, on mine, Ravi (Bishnoi), Akash (Singh) and all the players who were there. Then some of our players also got emotional and said something and the fight started. It shouldn't have happened, it was very unfortunate.
Like Bangladesh captain said, what happened after the final shouldn't have happened. So as a team, do you think the same?
Bangladeshi players aise hai nahi (They are not bad). They are very good guys. We were staying in the same hotel and we used to talk with them too. But on the field, when you become competitive...Australia are also competitive but they are not abusive. They sledge, everyone does. Pakistan were doing it, even New Zealand do it but everyone had their ways. You shouldn't go over the top in celebration or when you are throwing the ball. There should be decency and you should play in the spirit of the game. That was the only thing they were lacking. What happened was unfortunate. One team wins, one loses, it should be accepted by us and them as well. You should be gracious and professional as well. There should be a bit of decency.
Do you think they had come out with a plan to win the mental battle and eventually succeeded?
According to me, Bangladesh's skill level is way below India. But when I got out, Yashasvi and Tilak had put on a very good 94-run stand. It's nothing like they won the mental battle. On that day, our middle order didn't click and there were a lot of other factors, we were 156/3 and were all out for 177. This was a disappointing thing and it shouldn't happen in any match. If we had scored 220-230, we would have won the match. I don't think it was a mental game as we also took them down to the wire. Their opening partnership did well hence they got a good advantage. But we had made a good comeback and the Duckworth Lewis (Duckworth–Lewis–Stern method) also came into the picture. The target came down from 15 to six. 15 runs were important and even scoring one run was getting difficult. But since it was just seven runs, they could see the victory closer.
So after all the fracas in the final, did you finally shake hands?
Yes, after the match we shook hands on the field itself. And their captain Akbar Ali is very sensible and we spoke for quite some time off the field. They were with us at the hotel and airport as well. Akbar is quite sensible, he spoke well with all of us and we ended on a good note with all their players.
You and Yashasvi Jaiswal had cautious starts and then looked to accelerate. What was the exact gameplan while batting?
No one told us to start off cautiously. We both are from the same state so our gameplay is quite similar. We bide our time at the start and then afterwards converted the loose balls. And we were shown the stats that if we don't lose many wickets in the powerplay then usually we go on to score big, 280 or 300-plus. In fact, if we have only 30 runs from 10 overs, but without losing a wicket, it makes a lot of difference. So we were starting off cautiously. And also, the new ball was moving early on in South Africa so it was really tough in Potchefstroom. The conditions were overcast and the wicket was very damp. Later on, when the spinners bowled, it got relatively easier.
In the group stage you were getting starts but not converting them, what was your mindset going into the Pakistan game?
Against Australia, I got a good ball and got out early, while against Sri Lanka I played a bad shot, trying to pull, and against New Zealand, I batted well but couldn't continue as rain played spoilsport. Against Pakistan, the target was 177 and our coaches had told us that if an early wicket doesn't fall, Pakistan bowlers pehle bohot hi gaali galoch karenge, zor se daalenge, tumhe kuch bolenge, poori jaan laga denge (Pakistan bowlers will bad mouth, sledge, bowl fast, they will give their all) in the first 5-10 overs. So if you manage to keep your composure at that time then they will relent and loosen their grip. Once we built a 60-70-run stand, they actually relented and they were like 'Arey yaar ye log out hi nahi ho rahe, kuch try bhi nahi kar rahe hai (They are not getting out, not trying anything different). The singles and twos were coming easily so we were under no pressure. Personally, I was thinking I should stay unbeaten since it was a 177-run target. That's why I could play more maturely and score 59 not out.
You knew that the Pakistan bowlers were going to have a go, so what kind of sledging you faced and how did you respond?
Sledging to aise interview me bol nahi sakta (smiles) (I can't say those things in the interview), aake gaaliyan dena, ulti seedhi cheezen bolna (They were using bad words) but we think the game of cricket is between bat and ball and not the mouth. So we had to just execute our skills. So I thought I will try and go unbeaten. As I reached 50, Yashasvi was nearing his century so I concentrated on taking singles and doubles and didn't go for fours and sixes.
You didn't respond to their sledging?
A little bit in between when we were feeling confident and whenever we thought that someone was trying to get into our heads. Fir ek baar 70-80 ho gaya to hum log ne bhi dena shuru kar diya, hum bhi nahi ruke (Once we scored 70-80 we started giving it back to them, we also didn't stop).
What was discussed in the team meeting ahead of the Pakistan game?
It was an India-Pakistan game, there was a lot of hype on social media but we had thought that if we play good cricket and don't think who the opponents are, don't get too emotional and execute our skills then it would be enough. Because when it comes to skills, our team was the best in the tournament.
What clicked in the Pakistan match?
They had built a good partnership for the third wicket but then we got the breakthrough, there was a runout and I took a (brilliant) catch of Mohammad Haris, those moments were the turning point because a good catch can mentally uplift the team. So we got uplifted and then the bowlers never let the batsmen settle. In batting, Yashasvi and I had decided we only have to finish the match.
Take us through that catch of Haris.
The Pakistan supporters were sitting right behind me and they were trash-talking continuously. It wasn't in my mind that I will celebrate and obviously I didn't predict the catch. I was just trying to ignore them and concentrate on the match. The moment he hit that shot, the first thought that came to my mind was, ghus jaana hai catch ke liye (I have to go full throttle for the catch). Once Paras (Mhambrey) sir had advised us with a Jonty Rhodes quote: If you go then only you will know. 'Ghuso catch ke liye, tab tumhe pata chalega tum pakad sakte ho ki nai'. So that had struck my mind. As the ball travelled towards me, I just went blank and dived and pouched it.
And the celebration with the finger on your mouth...
I silenced them because they were continuously saying bad words and there were some things spoken that would affect you. So when I caught the ball I felt that celebration was really needed. It was apt and after that, they went silent.
What was the discussion in the team meeting ahead of the Bangladesh match?
We discussed that we have played well right through the tournament and we have been playing well for last one and half years. There is just one game to go and we have to take it as just another match. We don't have to think differently. We had discussed about the opening partnership and had reviewed the Pakistan match as well. Since the middle order didn't get to bat, they were asked to remain switched on. We were also told that Bangladesh will sledge but then we lost. But that's okay, if you play bad cricket you are bound to lose.
What went wrong in Bangladesh match?
I think going from 156/3 to 177 all out was not acceptable. And there were two run-outs, and there is kind of a saying in cricket that a team that suffers two or more run-outs never wins. Many of us got out because of our own mistakes. And also there were 33 extras which were too many.
Do you think you got over-cautious in the first 15-20 overs while batting in final?
Yes. When I see the replays I think we got over-cautious. The wicket didn't have so many demons that you had to play so many dot balls. They were bowling well and in good areas and the crowd was with them and they were also charged up. But that doesn't mean we had to get bogged down. Whenever we were presented with the loose ball we should have converted it. But it's gone and you can't bring it back.
There was a lot going on in the match. Do you think it was because of India vs Bangladesh rivalry that the final got heated up?
The India-Bangladesh rivalry isn't as big as such. Cricketing wise India is any time better than Bangladesh. But they played really well that day and we played really badly and that's why we lost.
What was the talk in the dressing room after the loss in final?
When we posted 177, in the innings break, Paras sir had told as that I want full effort from the team. Win or loss doesn't matter, if there's effort, I will be happy and when you come back in the dressing room after the game, you should feel you did everything you could. So when we came back, we had tried everything, all the bowling changes, all field placements, but it didn't click, we had put in all the effort and played our heart out. So the talk was that we should be very proud. We have been dominating U-19 cricket for a year or so now. So it was like, one bad day and it was the World Cup final which was unfortunate.
Did Rahul Dravid send any message post the final?
After every game, Rahul sir used to send us a message on the Whatsapp group. He used to give us brief feedback. He supported us a lot. He had really made us understand the wickets in South Africa. He was in the pre-WC camp with us in Bangalore. When a person of his stature takes out time for us, we also feel motivated and get the recognition that we are playing under him. After the final, he sent out a message that don't lose heart, he has also experienced the disappointment of not winning a World Cup in his journey so he knows how it feels. He said they (Bangladesh) played better cricket than us so and we played badly so we should admit it and move on gradually. Everyone was very emotional after the match.
How did you guys switch off?
In the breaks, we went to Kruger National Park, Cheetah Experience and visited malls in Johannesburg. The entire team used to travel together and have fun. We had Bishnoi and Priyam – two comedians who used to keep the team charged up all the time. Bishnoi ek minute chup nahi baithta (Bishnoi doesn't keep quiet for one bit). And there was a lot of fun with the English too. If someone won the Man of the Match award, then after listening to his English, everyone would poke him, what English did you speak? We used to pick out mistakes every time. If someone does well then wo chhati chauda kar ke aata hai...kyaa hai aaj bolo kyaa hai...' (smiles) (When someone did well with his English then he would boast about it). We enjoyed a lot. We had a good batch and will stay in touch.
What makes Yashasvi stand out from the rest?
Yashasvi and I have been playing since U-14 level. His temperament is really good. And his determination as well. 'Jab wo kuch thaan leta hai karneka to wo karke hi rehta hai' (If he decides to achieve something then he ends up achieving it). Whenever he gets a start he looks to capitalise on it which is a very good trait. In the WC, there were times when he got out for 50, 60 or 70 but he doesn't normally bat like that. He hits big runs. Actually he didn't show his true potential in the WC, he could have done better.
Was it difficult to pick Bishnoi's googlies in the nets?
At the start, it was difficult to pick him when we first met and went to the UK but after that, slowly, we started to pick him. But for the opposition, he's very tough to pick. His run-up, spin and his action are different. He grips cross-seam and bowls and doesn't bowl with the seam. When someone grips the seam, it's a bit easy to read him but he bowls all his balls – googly, leg-spin, flipper via cross-seam which is difficult to read. He is very different. He is a total package, he bats well and is a very good fielder.
What's the road ahead for you now?
I want to represent Mumbai in Ranji Trophy and do well there and I want to play for India senior team as soon as possible. Consistently performing in the domestic circuit will open the door for me.
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