There are no shortage of mountains to draw inspiration from in Tauranga. North of the Bay Oval is Mt Maunganui, a dormant volcano that is now a major tourist attraction. And just outside the ground is a mountain of sea salt more than two storeys’ high, which when zoomed in on resembles a snow-capped peak. As far as Group C goes though, India’s mountain stands scaled. They brushed aside their biggest threat in the pool, Australia, in their first encounter. And after conquering the mountain, they must ensure they do not stumble on the plains en route to the quarterfinals of the Under-19 World Cup. India’s next two opponents are Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe, and they will look to maintain the winning intensity.
Their opponents, PNG, are coming off a loss against Zimbabwe, one that coach Kila Pala said hurt them hard. And they have since focused on preparing themselves mentally for what could be the biggest game of their careers. “Part of our meeting was don’t be disappointed, it’s a chance of a lifetime”, he said. “Enjoy and embrace it, leave a bit of a mark on India and Australia, even if it’s 0 for 250 after 30 overs. Just enjoy what you’re doing.”
But Pala’s squad is woefully short of experience. Even the PNG senior team have played precious little cricket recently, and the Under-19 team has only played one tournament in the last two years. (In contrast, India have played four international series since the last World Cup cycle.) And to add to their inexperience, the PNG team will be playing their first day-night game of the tournament. And for almost all the PNG Under-19’s, it will be their first televised game.
A televised game represents their best chance to showcase their brand of cricket, if they can overcome the nerves that come with a live broadcast. Pala emphasized that they would be keen to learn as much as possible from the Indians, but that once the game began, the focus would be on trying to win. PNG cricket CEO and former Australia fast bowler Greg Campbell echoed that sentiment. “Were going into the game and when it starts its 0-0. India don’t have a 150 runs head start, and if we tick our boxes and play to our capabilities, and we do all of them right, there’s always chance that there could be a major upset.”
India meanwhile were allotted training time of 10 AM on Monday. Coming after a day-night game, the session was optional for the players. Most preferred to rest and recuperate, with those who didn’t play in the XI turning up at the Bay Oval for training. Manjot Kalra, who scored 86 against Australia, exuded confidence ahead of the game. “We have prepared well, even in the camps we had back home, we prepared for these conditions. So that has helped a lot”, he said.
India are likely to be without fast bowler Ishan Porel though. Porel had limped off the field against Australia with an ankle injury, and though he was walking without any trouble in the team hotel, is unlikely to be risked in Tuesday’s game. That means 18-year old Arshdeep Singh should get his first game. The left-arm quick from Punjab will add variety to an Indian pace attack that has impressed so far. It will be interesting to see if he is given the new ball, or Kamlesh Nagarkoti, who clocked 145 kph on Sunday, will open the bowling. Also still on the injury list is Riyan Parag. Indian coach Rahul Dravid has suggested that he may only be fit by the time India play their last group game, so India should play three left-arm spinners again.
The PNG team are known more for their song than their swing and seam, and play a passionate brand of cricket, one that can be very attractive when it comes off. And a televised game with the biggest market watching is the best opportunity. “Until we’re playing India, people didn’t even know we were here”, said Campbell. “And this is our eighth Under-19 World Cup!”
India will not be taking this side lightly. Even for a team that looks like it can lose nothing, a team with nothing to lose is always a threat.