When the death overs of the first innings of the first Super League quarter-final began, the smart money would have been on Australia to continue their run of having reached the semi-final of every edition of the ICC Under-19 World Cup that they have competed in since 2008.
Their opponents, and the competition's most successful outfit, India were up against the odds at 155/6 after 40 overs — not one of their players from number seven and below had batted even a single time in the run into the knockout rounds.
If you happened to miss the next hour's worth of play, for any reason, you would have been forgiven for thinking you had walked back into a different game of cricket. Because 10-and-a-bit overs later, Australia were three-down inside the opening over of their innings — chasing 234 to upend the defending champions.
It had been, truly, a quite bizarre passage of play at Senwes Park in Potchefstroom.
Let's rewind a little.
After being asked to bat in the first of the quarter-finals, India started conservatively — a template they have consistently followed in their three proper outings with the bat so far in the tournament — and had seen off any early threats to reach 35 without loss in the 10th over. In the space of the next 34 balls, they added a further 19 runs, but lost three wickets.
The batsmen to be dismissed were the following: Divyaansh Saxena — half-centurion in the group finale against New Zealand on Friday; Tilak Verma — scorer of four 50+ scores in his last five innings; Priyam Garg — captain, and scorer of four 50+ scores in his last seven innings.
Yashasvi Jaiswal kept one end ticking despite the setbacks, and compiled his third half-century in four games this World Cup. To support him, India still had Dhruv Jurel and Siddhesh Veer — both with accomplished returns of their own since India's arrival in South Africa in mid-December.
But Jaiswal fell right after the 25-over mark, and Jurel was out just after the completion of 30 overs. That meant India were now five-down — more wickets than they had lost in 77.5 overs of batting through the group stage.
And then, when Veer fell short of his finishing responsibilities, India were languishing at 144/6 in 38 overs. Australia wouldn't have been greedy in dreaming of a sub-200 total; the same Australia, who just five days earlier had completed a thrilling last-ball chase of 253 in a must-win clash against their arch-rivals England.
— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) January 28, 2020
Except that Atharva Ankolekar had other ideas. Atharva Ankolekar, who is one of few members of this Indian under-19 squad with no First-Class/List-A experience; Atharva Ankolekar, who had all of 48 runs from seven prior youth ODI innings (at a strike rate of 50); Atharva Ankolekar, who missed the first two games of this World Cup because he fractured a finger in his right hand. That Atharva Ankolekar ended up more-than-doubling his Youth ODI career tally of runs — and he did so with a measured 54-ball stint at the crease, not through some carefree swiping at the death. At the end of the 40th over, having been out in the middle for nearly 10 overs, Ankolekar was batting on five off 19 balls. His first boundary came off the 22nd delivery he faced, allowing India to take nine runs from the 42nd over; only two prior overs on the day had yielded more runs. By the end of the 45th over, with the equally-responsible and even-less-decorated (with the bat) Ravi Bishnoi for company, Ankolekar was on 17 from 33 balls. The scorecard read 183/6. Two overs of strike-rotation later, India were yet to touch 200. Then, off the final three overs of the innings — even with one wicket falling in each — the left-handed number seven took control of the occasion. Ankolekar took strike to 14 off the last 18 balls of the Indian innings, a farming period that fetched him 29 runs — enough to take him to an unbeaten 55, and India, from a struggling-to-reach-200 to a it's-game-on-now 233. The momentum of the crunch knockout contest had swung. Still, Ankolekar's heroics had only stretched the ambit of the game, from India's perspective, to competitive; India may have been the only side to take 30 wickets in the group stage (although Afghanistan, too, enjoyed a 100 percent hit rate but from two completed games), but New Zealand, at the start of their rain-revised 23-over chase of 192, had showed this was a unit that could be pushed on to the back-foot through their powerplay impetus. Add to that the immense potential in the Aussie batting lineup. Opener Jake Fraser-McGurk had hit 84 against West Indies, arguably the team of the first round (before being named by no less than Ricky Ponting as among the four most impressive youngsters in Australia at the moment); skipper Mackenzie Harvey was coming on the back of a crucial 65 in the virtual knockout against England; their tail wore a lengthy and proud look on the back of the exploits from the same game — Connor Sully and Todd Murphy, numbers nine and ten respectively, had successfully completed a chase that had boiled down to 40 required from 16 balls.
How good were these two today?
— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) January 28, 2020
We were on for a contest. This was game on.
Except that Kartik Tyagi had other ideas.
Okay, agreed, the start of his opening burst, which would prove to be the coup de grace on the day, had more to do with the Australian openers having a moment completely devoid of ideas — Fraser-McGurk's impact on the innings would be 0(0) with arguably the most unnecessary run out of recent times — but what followed later on in that first over was the stuff of dreams.
Harvey, to his credit, started well after the Fraser-McGurk/Oliver Davies brain-fade, driving the second ball he faced to the cover boundary. After his strike, came the Tyagi double-strike.
Fourth ball of the first over: Harvey pinned in front by Tyagi, Australia 4/2. Fifth ball of the first over: Lachlan Hearne, the new man in, corked by a brute of a yorker at 140 clicks an hour.
Australia 4/3 after five balls.
That time when India were trudging along, the scoreboard reading 155/6 in 40 overs, seemed a distant memory. When you lose three wickets for five or less runs while chasing a 230-odd score in a knockout, coming back is difficult — the Indian colts would've known that all too well, from their own seniors.
Tyagi would claim his third strike in his second over, and add a fourth in his second spell, to finish with delightful, player-of-the-match-winning figures of 8-0-24-4. As he admitted himself while being awarded the honour, the Hapur-hailing quick had worked on his control, and that was evidenced through a total of three wides in the quarter-final — compared to 16 from the first three games.
His double-strike will live long in the conscience, but the improved focus arguably holds India in greater stead as they await a semi-final against Pakistan or Afghanistan. 37 out of Tyagi's 48 deliveries were dots, and he wasn't alone in applying the dot-ball pressure — Australia didn't score off 177 deliveries in an innings that lasted 43.3 overs.
That dot-ball count was only marginally worse than India's (201 dots out of 300), but the pressure of unutilized resources, and indeed the scoreboard, is a great deal more for a chasing team.
Having said that, the finer margins may have counted for a lot more if this was a game that went down to the wire. That it didn't, and that India won by 74 runs, was down to 10.5 overs — the last 60 balls of the Indian innings, and the first five of the Australian reply — of measured mayhem that transformed the course of the first Super League knockout clash of the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2020.
The Aussies might not have seen it coming. Some in the Indian camp, too, might not have seen it coming. Try telling Atharva Ankolekar and Kartik Tyagi that.
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