Cricket

ICC U-19 World Cup 2020: Contrasting, yet very similar captains Priyam Garg and Akbar Ali go head-to-head in India vs Bangladesh final

  • Rohit Sankar
  • February 9th, 2020
  • 8:56:11 IST

“Nothing less than winning the fifth World Cup for India is my target. I was sure of my selection as captain in the side as I have been doing well, even in the under-23 teams. I was expecting a call in a day or two, and I got a call only this morning" — Priyam Garg, India under-19 captain.

"We are focused on making the knockout stage, and then taking it match by match. We believe we can even reach the tournament final. We can do something good" — Akbar Ali, Bangladesh under-19 captain.

These words by the captains of India and Bangladesh youth sides before the under-19 World Cup began have an eerily similar vibe to it. The unmistakable confidence in their words stand more as a symbol of determination than arrogance. There is an assured positivity in their sentences that you don't often see at senior level.

Bangladesh are into their first U-19 World Cup final and will face India. Photo @ICC

Bangladesh are into their first U-19 World Cup final and will face India. Photo @ICC

The choice of words by both captains is also pretty interesting. Garg stressed on "nothing less than" and "sure" while Ali was equally bullish about his team making the finals of the tournament — "we believe we can" — which was a tall claim at the time considering that Bangladesh had never played the World Cup finals.

A month later we are at the fag end of the under-19 World Cup with several teams being kicked out of the ship on the way and leading their men into the finals of the 13th edition of the youth World Cup are Garg and Ali.

India against Bangladesh in the finals have been pretty one-sided affairs at all levels. At the senior level, there have been three finals across formats involving Bangladesh and India and the Indian side has come out on top on each occasion with the exceptional Nidahas Trophy finals being the closest Bangladesh have come to toppling the biggest Asian giant. The other two are Asia Cups in 2016 and 2018, both of which the Tigers lost.

At youth ODI level, there have been five clashes in the finals between India and Bangladesh so far — four tri-series finals and an ACC under-19 Asia Cup final — with India winning all five. The last of the five, the Asia Cup finals in Colombo in September last year, will remain Bangladesh's biggest fluffed chance at winning a tournament final against India and Ali was at the helm at the time as well.

Having bowled India out for a measly 106 in 32-odd overs, Bangladesh were favourites to win the title as they boasted of a quality batting line-up. However, things unraveled quickly for Bangladesh as they found themselves in hot water at 16 for 4 when Ali walked out to the middle. He was seventh man dismissed and top-scored for Bangladesh as they fell five runs short of matching India's total.

Bangladesh skipper Akbar Ali is seen as a crisis man in his team. Photo ICC

Bangladesh skipper Akbar Ali is seen as a crisis man in his team. Photo ICC

Now, Ali is a better batsman than his batting position suggests. Contrary to elite captains who become a core part of the top-order, Ali took it upon himself to be the finisher in a top-heavy line-up.

"Ever since I've been playing U-19s, I've been playing at No. 6. It's because of the combination of our XI. We have excellent top-order batsmen, so I'd rather position myself as a finisher," Ali recently said in an interview with ESPNCricinfo.

The camaraderie within the Bangladesh youth side stems from such sacrifices. The team played a whole lot of matches in the build up to the World Cup. In fact, since the end of the last under-19 World Cup to now, Bangladesh have played the third most number of youth ODIs after Sri Lanka and India. They have also won significantly — their 22 wins include a series win in New Zealand, beating Sri Lanka and England at home and a good run to the finals in a tri-series involving India and England in England.

The sheer number of matches has helped build rapport in the camp and it was evident right through the World Cup as Bangladesh's top-order and bowlers took them to the final of the tournament. Ali, who has barely spent any time in the middle with the bat in the tournament, won't complain, though. A natural captain who understands the dynamics of his team, Ali has faced just 24 balls in this World Cup, remaining unbeaten in two matches and not walking out to bat in two others.

Unlike captains who lead from the front, Ali prefers to pull strings from behind the stumps and step in if needed to avert calamity. His gritty half-century at Worcester in the tri-series tournament game against India last July speaks volume about his character as a leader and crisis batsman. With Bangladesh been reduced to 67 for four chasing 265, Ali made a half-century to put up a fight. Although Bangladesh lost, Ali, who was the seventh batsman to be dismissed, had shown that he was willing to stand up for his team in a crisis. That, essentially, sums up Ali's quality as a leader.

***

The story is vastly different for India's elite captain, Priyam Garg. Unlike Ali, Garg is a batsman first and then a captain. Ignored for the 2018 edition of the youth World Cup, a 16-year old Garg took the omission in his stride and decided to force his way back into reckoning.

Fast-tracked to the Uttar Pradesh Ranji Trophy team in 2018/19, Garg made a century on debut and ended the season as their second-highest run-scorer — 814 runs at an average of 67.83. In List A cricket too, Garg made a mark, scoring a maiden hundred and averaging 41.46 with 500-plus runs in his kitty.

The sheer weight of runs made Garg's selection in the under-19 side a no-brainer. He knew he hadn't made enough runs in 2018 to vie for a place ahead of a Shubman Gill, Prithvi Shaw or Manjot Kalra. Instead of sitting and pondering over the missed opportunity, Garg turned his fortunes around with runs and more runs at all levels.

Priyam Garg in conversation with his teammates during a match at U19 World Cup. Photo ICC

Priyam Garg in conversation with his teammates during a match at U19 World Cup. Photo ICC

"I knew I didn't score runs, so I didn't deserve to be picked. If I sat there thinking why I didn't get selected, I wouldn't have progressed," he said and it was indeed his character that helped him bounce back from a career-low early on.

Garg has an insatiable appetite for runs but is already on the cusp of fame having won an Indian Premier League gig at the auction last year. But the lead up to his sale perhaps defines Garg the cricketer better. In the Deodhar Trophy finals at Ranchi on a slow, low wicket, Garg lifted his team out of abyss even as several senior players struggled to come to terms with the wicket.

Chasing 284, Garg walked in at No 3 — at the fall of Shubman Gill's wicket — for India C and watched helplessly from the other end as his side crumbled to 77 for 5, losing stalwarts Mayank Agarwal, Virat Singh, Suryakumar Yadav and Dinesh Karthik. Undeterred, Garg fought the odds against bowlers of the quality of Shahbaz Nadeem, Krishnappa Gowtham, Roosh Kalaria and Mohammad Siraj to make a half-century at a good rate. He eventually fell for 74 in 77 balls and his team went on to lose, but Garg had made a lasting impression that day.

As the under-19 final beckons, Garg's name has taken a backseat. The likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal (312 runs in 5 matches) and Divyaansh Saxena (148 runs in 4 matches) have hogged headlines for India alongside the efficient bowling attack. None of their other batsmen have made over a 100 runs this tournament. Garg has batted just twice and made a half-century in the first game against Sri Lanka. He was dismissed cheaply in the quarterfinals and wasn't required in the semi-finals. In the quadrangular series before the World Cup also involving South Africa, New Zealand and Zimbabwe, Garg had made a half-century and a ton.

***

Garg has form behind him and is a reliable batsman in the middle-order, but like his counterpart Ali, he hasn't been needed much by his team this World Cup. The strong top-orders that India and Bangladesh boast of have masked their middle-order strength that begins from the respective captains.

While India are on a quest for their fifth youth World Cup title with Garg having Mohammad Kaif, Virat Kohli, Unmukt Chand and Prithvi Shaw to take inspiration from, Bangladesh are in their maiden World Cup final, and Ali is looking to script a historic chapter of his own in the annals of Bangladesh cricket. Their respective teams might have bigger players, but if a crisis situation crops up in the final, be rest assured that these captains will be the first to put their hand up and ride their team through the rocky waters.

Updated Date: February 09, 2020 08:56:11 IST

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