An Indian team touted among the pre-tournament favourites bossed large stretches of a world event, with a Mumbai batsman leading the run-scoring charts in the competition, only to come undone with one inopportune outing at the business end. Haven’t we been here before?
To say India were dominant upto the final of the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2020 would be under-selling the efforts of the Boys in Blue over three weeks in South Africa. The victory margins on the road to the summit clash portray the story clear enough - 90 runs, 10 wickets, 44 runs (in a 23-over game), 74 runs and 10 wickets.
It’s not like they deflected off their strategic path on the day of the title bout either. India didn’t change anything for the worse. Their paths just collided with a team as equipped and as persevering as them, but one that, on the day, had just that little more bloody-mindedness of approach to push its opponent off of the chosen track.
It was, at first, a doggedness to tie up India’s prospering openers, and then, a charge to expose their relatively untested middle-order that decided the contest in Bangladesh’s favour - making Akbar Ali and his unit the first Bangladeshi outfit, junior or senior, male or female, to lift a global ICC title.
Examine the scorecard, and India's innings progression at Potchefstroom, and you could begin to identify the glaring 'errors'. A cautious start, no support for the well-set and in-form batsman and run outs of two potential contributors to additional runs at the death.
What a stunning effort in the field from Shoriful Islam!
— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) February 9, 2020
The start - 23/1 at the end of 10 overs - reads particularly poorly, but it wasn’t too different from scenarios India had faced in their two earlier knockout games in the tournament. In the quarter-final against Australia, batting first, like they did in the final, India had crawled to 35/1 in the Powerplay; against Pakistan, in the semis, India had the benefit of a lowly 175-run target, but still tallied only 33 from the first 10 overs. This was the template, and it had worked multiple times - start slow but sure, build a platform, keep things ticking in the middle overs, (try to) explode at the death.
It’s just that on Sunday, two factors contributed to the Indian colts being a few steps off the pace they would have imagined. One was the apparent gingerness from taking any risks; the other was the tangibly visible resolve of the attack they were up against.
Still, at the 39.4-over mark, India’s total read 156/3. Yashasvi Jaiswal, after an almost-painstakingly obdurate vigil through the first 25-30 overs of the innings, had started coming into his own, and the addition of 49 runs in the last 58 balls up to that point had taken India’s run rate to the cusp of four-per-over - a final flourish from there, as they must have been hoping, and a competitive total around the 225-230 mark wouldn’t have been a distant reality (in two completed innings batting first at this World Cup, India’s final-10 over totals had been 88/1 and 78/3).
Right at that point, came the two balls that changed the course of the final - the leader of Bangladesh’s attack, Shoriful Islam, removed Jaiswal and Siddhesh Veer (India’s designated finisher) with back-to-back deliveries, and India would finish the 40th over at 156/5.
Of course, the carnage-like collapse was only about to get worse - India eventually saw their last seven wickets go down for 21 runs in the space of 7.4 overs - but it was, without doubt, that Shoriful double-strike which marked the beginning of the end, and the decisive tilting of the final in favour of the Tigers.
Perhaps the situation would have been different if India hadn’t gone into as much of a shell as they did; perhaps there could have been an attempt to disrupt the tight-rope that was the Bangladesh bowling with a pinch-hitter; perhaps a slightly greater intent to rotate the strike would have eased the pressure of the scoreboard (India faced 169 dot balls in an innings that lasted 284 deliveries).
Could have done this, should have done that, would have won it all - the hypothetical what-may-have-beens will haunt this Indian camp, and its fans, for the near-future. But, in the long run - and the long run is of far greater significance in a tournament designed, at first, to unearth ‘future stars’ - it pains lesser to know that one bad day was the difference between winning it all.
— Irfan Pathan (@IrfanPathan) February 9, 2020
Even without considering the immense future potential they hold, there was a lot to celebrate from the campaign itself. An Indian topped both the batting and bowling charts - Jaiswal’s 400 runs were good enough to earn him the Player of the tournament mantle, while Ravi Bishnoi’s haul of 17 wickets included four-wicket hauls in half of India’s six games. Both gave the world a clearer idea of why teams broke the two-crore barrier to avail their services at the IPL auction in December.
The pace stocks in the country don’t appear to be under any threat of diminishing, going by what we saw of Kartik Tyagi, Sushant Mishra and Akash Singh.
It was disappointing, no doubt, to lose out on a title there for the taking. The sights that soured the closing of the finale were nothing short of a disappointment either. But one bad day, and one bad finish, that cost the India Under-19s the world title should take nothing away from their pursuits of the real deal that they’ve shown themselves to be raring for.
As Jaiswal and Bishnoi and Garg and Tyagi, along with the rest of the travelling unit, get on the flight back home, there will be a lot of heavy hearts . But India’s U-19 batch of 2020 will do well to know that this competition isn’t their endgame, and that victory at this stage doesn’t necessarily mean anything in the long-run; barely 30 percent of the members from India’s first three U-19 World Cup title wins went on to have notable international careers (the 2018 squad is excluded from these numbers since they still have years left in them to push for India berths).
The trailer didn’t go their way, but the India Under-19s are only just getting started with the story of their lives.
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