They were billed as pre-tournament favourites, and they’ve been just that in the initial bouts.
India finished as Group A winners at the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2020 with victory in a rain-hit encounter against New Zealand at Bloemfontein on Friday. Crushing wins over Sri Lanka and Japan had already ensured India’s progress, maintaining a proud record of having reached the knockout stage of every edition since 2000. A 44-run (DLS) win over the Kiwis allowed the Indian colts to avoid West Indies – the only other team to end the group stage with a 100 percent record – and setup a quarter-final clash with Australia at Potchefstroom on Tuesday.
The rain-reduced 23-overs-a-side contest presented India with their first real test of the competition. Sri Lanka had been brushed aside by 90 runs in the opener, and Japan had been rolled over for 41; but with top spot in the group up for grabs, New Zealand gave India a brief scare in a steep run-chase – and had stayed ahead of the eight-ball for the first half of it.
At 51/0 in five, 74/1 in seven and 95/2 in 10 overs, the Kiwi U-19s had put themselves in the ascendancy before being brought to their knees by India’s spin duo of Ravi Bishnoi and Atharva Ankolekar – New Zealand lost their last eight wickets for 48 runs.
That they challenged India, even if briefly so, could yet be a bigger blessing for the Priyam Garg-led side, who were able to find themselves under the pump for the first time since before the start of the tournament. India, remember, had lost just one out of nine games (including warm-ups) since arriving in South Africa in December – that, too, had come in a dead-rubber, having already clinched a three-match series against the hosts.
A look at the good and the not-so-good from India’s Group A campaign at the ICC U-19 World Cup 2020, and what to expect from the knockout rounds.
Batting solid, despite lack of game-time
It will pinch the Indian unit that no one apart from Yashasvi Jaiswal and Divyaansh Saxena got to bat more than once, owing to a non-existent target against Japan and conditions against New Zealand.
But when they did bat in unison, versus a Sri Lankan attack that possessed a couple of handful customers, India had looked worth the big money: a total of 297/4 was achieved without a single batsman crossing 60 – there were three half-centuries, two forties and the lowest of the five partnerships was 46.
Jaiswal was among the runs all three times, with fifties against Sri Lanka and New Zealand sandwiched by an 18-ball 29* in the clash with Japan. Saxena, his opening partner, looked composed in brief stints in both outings he got (Kumar Kushagra was given a game against Japan).
The lack of time in the middle during the competition doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of touch,though. Each member of India’s first-choice top-five – Jaiswal, Saxena, Tilak Varma, Garg and Dhruv Jurel – had at least two scores of 50+ in the tune-up to the World Cup.
Spin: The rock of India’s title charge
While they do have a bunch of fast-bowlers capable of putting the foot on the gas and clocking impressive speeds, the Indian team’s stand-out feature, expectedly, has been spin.
Ravi Bishnoi ends the group stage among the leading wicket-takers in the tournament, his 10 strikes from three games twice as much as the next-best Indian bowler – and a shot in the arm for Kings XI Punjab, who doled out Rs 2 crore for the 19-year-old leggie.
Atharva Ankolekar was only able to join Bishnoi in the last game against New Zealand, having had to skip earlier games as he nursed a fractured finger on his right hand. But the slow left-armer’s remarkable record meant India were always going to blood him in for the big games: Ankolekar has 30 wickets from 11 matches at this level, at a strike rate of 17.9 – the best for any bowler with 20+ wickets in Youth ODIs.
Bishnoi had been among the wickets against Sri Lanka (10-0-44-2) and Japan (8-3-5-4), but the joint-impact with Ankolekar was instant. The Indian spinners produced combined figures of 10-0-58-7 to settle the group-finale, and were the chief destructors as the Kiwis collapsed in a heap.
Areas of concern: Extras, fielding
It’s hard to be too critical on the evidence of three largely one-sided wins, but the quest for perfection – and a record-extending fifth title – will require a firming-up of all parameters.
India’s extras count stuck out like a slight sore thumb, with the team averaging more than 10 wides per game. 12 of those accounted for 30% of Japan’s total of 41 all out. Right-arm quick Kartik Tyagi was the prime culprit, both against Japan and on the whole, spraying 16 wides in all.
Arguably a bigger worry is India’s ground-fielding, which could be a more decisive factor in the business end of the competition. Ankolekar’s dropping of a sitter against the Kiwis could be put down to his broken finger, but there were a few pedestrian misses in the outfield that would have embarrassed the coaching staff.
The competition from here on is among the performing units; West Indies, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Australia have shown themselves as dangerous outfits – silly mistakes could prove telling, and fatal.
Opposition watch: Australia underdogs for Q/F
Australia were shown up by West Indies in their tournament opener, losing after being bowled out for 179, but got ticking with a 10-wicket pasting of Nigeria (61 all out) in the next game.
A must-win against the arch-enemy, however, produced something special out of the Australian stables.
The three-time champions appeared set for only their second first-round exit in Under-19 World Cup history before one of the more outrageous turnarounds happened in a 50-over game. Australia had been coasting in their chase of 253, only for England to roar back into the contest through their spinners. 153/2 in 30 overs became 189/7 in 43.2, and the equation had become as skewed as 40 from 16 balls with two wickets in hand – enter Connor Sully, a number nine with all of four prior runs at the U-19 level.
The last four balls of the 48th over went for six, six, four and six; two overs later, Sully (35* off 20) and Todd Murphy (16* off 10) had completely the most dramatic of heists and knocked England out of the competition.
From an individual view, Tanvir Sangha has been exceptional for the Aussies so far. The leggie, like Bishnoi, has 10 wickets from three group stage outings – while conceding barely three runs an over. Opener James Fraser-McGurk leads the batting charts for Australia, with 118 runs from three games.
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As per convention, ICC keeps a back-up country ready and it's been the UAE for the past one year.
Pakistan opener Fakhar Zaman has also been nominated.
India are trailing top-ranked England (277) by five rating points in the T20 team rankings.