The Indian team, captained by Prithvi Shaw and coached by batting legend Rahul Dravid, steamrolled its way to their fourth title in the ICC U-19 World Cup, thrashing Australia by eight wickets in the summit clash on Saturday.
The 11th edition of the tournament was dominated by the Indians like never before. Seldom has a unit maintained control throughout the course of the tournament in any form of cricket as the Indian juniors did in New Zealand.
The eight-wicket victory in the final of the tournament not only brings Shaw and company into the limelight back home, with the prospect of breaking into the senior team now brighter than ever, but it also completes a fairytale for coach Dravid, who missed out on the glory in the 2016 edition with a loss to West Indies in the final. Having carved a niche for himself as a batsman with a glittering career, he has now set off along the path to creating a similar legacy as a coach.
Getting our focus back to the victorious Indian team, a mention must be made of the dominant run throughout the course of the tournament. Let us take a look at their path to a record fourth title:
India vs Australia, Group B, 14 January:
India started their campaign off with a resounding win over the side that they would go on to meet in the final. Australia, one of the favourites in the build-up to the tournament, were simply no match to Shaw and his team as the Indian captain top-scored for his side with a lively 94, guiding the side to a solid 328/7 with help from Manjot Kalra (86).
Then pacers Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi took over, unleashing their fury on the opposition batsmen to restrict them to a score 100 short of India’s. What was especially worth noting in this match was the Indian pacers, especially Nagarkoti, touching speeds near the 150 kmph mark.
India vs Papua New Guinea, Group B, 16 January:
The Papua New Guinea juniors were next to come in the firing line, and they barely put up enough resistance for the match to last more than a couple of hours. The match saw one of the most spectacular collapses witnessed in cricket, as left-arm spinner Anukul Roy tore through the middle and lower-order of the opponents to get them bowled out for a lowly 67 from 61/4. The Indian opening stand was a one-man show thereafter, as Shaw smashed a 39-ball 57 to get his side past the target in just eight overs.
India vs Zimbabwe, Group B, 19 January:
The last Group B fixture for India saw Roy dishing out another special performance and causing yet another collapse, though this one wasn’t as disastrous as that of Papua New Guinea. The Zimbabwean top-order gave the side a decent start, with the score reading 110/3 at one stage, before Roy found his rhythm for the second match running, helping the Indians capture the next seven wickets for just 44 runs.
The opening stand between Harvik Desai (56) and Shubman Gill (90) turned out to be the match-winning one, as the two put up an unbroken opening stand that helped the Indians chase the target down with 10 wickets and nearly 30 overs to spare. It somewhat reminded us of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly’s unbroken opening stand (197) against the Zimbabweans at Sharjah in 1998.
India vs Bangladesh, quarter-final, 26 January:
Electing to bat in their first knock-out match of the tournament, India were off to a shaky start after losing the wicket of Kalra early, but a vital partnership between Desai and Gill steadied the 2016 runners-up. Qazi Onik (3/48) did well to prevent the Indians from breaching the 300-run mark, with the Indians getting bowled out for a competitive-looking 265.
The Bangladeshis however, were never quite in the chase throughout, and their hopes started to fade away very quickly after the dismissal of opener Pinak Ghosh (43). Pacer Nagarkoti was the pick of the Indian bowlers with excellent figures of 3/18, with some disciplined effort from all-rounder Abhishek Sharma (2/11), who earlier struck a vital 50, aiding him.
India vs Pakistan, semi-final, 30 January:
A World Cup semi-final perhaps could not get any bigger than this with the South Asian arch-rivals facing off at Christchurch for gaining entry into the final. On paper as well as recent form, India were always the superior team. In the end, they exhibited the superiority in their performance as well.
Gill rose to the occasion as he struck a memorable century, remaining unbeaten on 102 off 94 balls, anchoring the Indian innings and helping the side finish on a challenging 272/9. It was Gill who held the Indian innings together even as Muhammad Musa and Arshad Iqbal kept getting regular wickets.
The Pakistan batsmen, however, never stood a chance in their reply. Ishan Porel ran through the Pakistani top-order, collecting four early wickets in a devastating six-over spell in which he gave away just 17 runs, and exposing the middle-order to the Indian spinners. Porel’s spell had set up the victory for India, and it was only a mere formality thereafter. Few would’ve imagined the Pakistan innings finishing that quickly, as they were bowled out for 69 to lose by massive 203 runs.
India vs Australia, final 3 February:
In a repeat of the group stage clash, the Indians outperformed the Australians in all departments in the biggest game of them all. Shaw and crew barely showed any nerves throughout the course of the final, exhibiting maturity beyond their years, which might have rubbed off on them from coach Dravid.
After electing to bat first, the Australians couldn’t quite get themselves going due to the absence of a major partnership. Jonathan Merlo fought hard, but kept losing out on partners on a regular basis, as the Aussies failed to bat 50 overs out and were bowled out for 216.
Kalra anchored the chase brilliantly thereafter, doing an Unmukt Chand by slamming a match-winning century in the final. The Delhi lad maintained a calm demeanour at the crease, while keeping the asking rate under control at all times, to guide the Indians past the target with eight wickets and nearly a dozen overs to spare. India thus, became the first team to four titles in the history of the U-19 World Cup.