Who remembers an Under-19 Indian team that fell short of glory?
If you aren’t a cricket nerd, you probably won’t be able to name the squad that surrendered in the final of 2006. Or the team of 2014 that lost to England in the quarter-final. They may as well have been nameless, so cruel are our memories. And yet we remember that Yuvraj Singh won the cup in 2000, Virat Kohli did in 2008, and Unmukt Chand did in 2012.
On a chilly Saturday night in Tauranga, another 15 Indians etched themselves into memory by winning the Under-19 World Cup, circa 2018.
India and Australia were tied at three titles each till Saturday, but in no way were these two teams equal. Despite the advantage of batting first, Australia were totally outmatched. There were periods where they seemed to be in the game; for instance, when they raced to 46 for 1 in nine overs. Opener jack Edwards had raced to 25 off 27, and was showing exactly how good the Bay Oval wicket was for batting.
The cloud cover that made it look like a good toss to lose was studiously ignoring the ball. No swing, hardly any seam, and pace that was being directed by the batters when misdirected by the bowlers.
Later in the game, Australia had another strong period — a partnership of 75 for the fourth wicket, with Jonathan Merlo toying with the Indian spinners. He and Param Uppal seemed to have set a base from which Australia could touch 250.
But in a tournament that had put the spotlight on India’s big names, it were the unsung heroes who controlled the big moments.
First Ishan Porel took wickets with the new ball, with a spell of 5-1-22-2. Bowling a couple of yards slower than he did before his injury, he craftily stuck to his strength: the extra bounce his 6’3’’ frame usually obtains. He got Edwards with one that climbed on him, forcing him to hit uppishly into the hands of cover. Porel had been passed over in the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction, his injury costing him important games. He admitted to being ‘shattered’ at the time, but did not allow the price tags of his fellow bowlers to distract him from the team’s goals.
Later, Shiva Singh showed why he is always the first spinner Prithvi Shaw turns to. In a match where the run rate rarely dipped below 4.5, Shiva bowled a spell of 5-1-22-0, conceding no boundaries, and bringing India back into the game after Australia’s brisk start. Shiva later reaped the rewards of economy, picking up two wickets in his second spell, and effecting a run out.
Shaw’s tactical skills, which had hardly been required so far, were also on display. With Merlo and McSweeney paddle sweeping the spinners, Shaw employed a short fine leg as well as a short square leg, using his best fielders there. It increased the risk while dangling the unprotected boundary as a reward. The field forced the batters to change plans, and drew their wickets soon after; McSweeney edged a return catch, and Merlo tried to switch-hit over the off side, only finding deep cover.
All the pre-match talk was about India’s two best batters, Shaw and Shubman Gill. Both played brief but attractive innings, but it was the lesser known Manjot Kalra who shattered Australian hopes. Moderate totals can be extremely tricky to chase down, not least in World Cup finals, with history on the line. Also, much had been made of his technique, about how his back leg moves towards leg, creating vulnerability outside off.
Kalra didn’t seem to think so. His driving in the V was textbook, whether along the ground or in the air. He targeted leg-spinner Lloyd Pope, taking two sixes off him, ensuring that Pope’s quarter-final heroics would not reappear. A deserved hundred made him only the fifth player to ton up in the final in the history of the tournament.
The winning runs prompted the players running in to celebrate the win, with Shaw effecting a celebration inspired by the PlayStation game FIFA 2018, witnessed by a crowd of more than 3,700.
The mountain that sits at the north end of the Bay Oval has an old Maori legend tied to it. It is said that it was first called the 'Nameless One'. Lonely, it left its inland home and sought to drown itself in the sea. But mountains could only move once in their lifetime, and only at night. The 'Nameless One' got to the shore, but then it froze there as the sun came up. Thus it earned its name 'Mauao', meaning ‘caught by the morning sun’.
As the morning after the final dawns, none of the Indian players who took the field in Tauranga will be nameless. None will be forgotten. Their domination has ensured exactly that. And in time, a few of them may end up becoming cricketing mountains themselves. Maybe, even legends.
The author is a former India cricketer, and now a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She hosts the YouTube Channel, ‘Cricket With Snehal’, and tweets @SnehalPradhan