This Indian team likes a challenge. We saw that in their performance against Australia in the first game of the ICC Under-19 World Cup. But their next two games offered them as much resistance as a house of cards on a gym ball in a sea-breeze. In India’s final group match, they made short work of Zimbabwe, and sealed their spot in the quarter-finals of the Under-19 World Cup. India’s next biggest challenges are better teams, and a loss of inertia.
Flat catches are easier than high catches; they don’t give you time to think. Similarly, a long break in an important tournament usually isn’t what a winning team wants. They prefer to carry the momentum forward, feeding off the energy of victories rather than giving room for over-analysis to creep in. India though, having topped the group, have earned a six-day gap before their quarter-final. And they won’t mind it at all. Because leading into the business end of the tournament, injury is the only thing India have to be worried about.
Fast bowler Ishan Porel, who impressed in the short spell he bowled in the game against Australia, is still recovering from the bruised heel that flared up in that game. There are mixed signs as to his recovery though. In the lunch break of India’s game against Zimbabwe, he was seen hopping repeatedly on his injured left ankle without visible discomfort, and the six-day break gives him the best chance to recover. On the other hand, Vidarbha fast bowler Aditya Thakare has been called in as cover, and will join the team ahead of the quarter-final.
Another player who will not complain about the break will be Riyan Parag. He had not played India’s first two games, despite showing form in the warm-up matches, because of a finger injury. In the pre-match routine before Friday’s game, Parag did not take part in the group fielding session, but was given catches separately. It seemed to be a fitness test to see how the ligament strain in his left hand was holding up. Parag looks to have passed, but he bowled with precautionary taping on those fingers, and was not required to bat. So the gap should give his body time to settle completely.
No room for complacency
India will travel to Queenstown on Sunday, where they will play the team that finishes second in Group C. That will most likely be Bangladesh, provided England beat Canada in the last round of group games. That will make Bangladesh the fourth Asian team in the top eight, with Pakistan and Afghanistan also qualifying.
India have clearly learnt their lesson from their shock loss to Nepal in the Asia Cup last year, when they went on to crash out of the tournament. There was no such complacency against Zimbabwe, as the bowlers shot them out for 154, despite pace sensation Kamlesh Nagarkoti looking off colour. The batting was even more ruthless, with the game over in the 22nd over without a single Indian wicket going down, even though India shuffled the batting order.
“I think it’s a really good start for us in this tournament”, said Indian captain Prithvi Shaw. “We always talk about learning to win the games, even if you’re playing against a weaker team. We still have to play to our standards, to our professionalism, so this is what we talk about and I think all of the boys are doing good.”
India’s likely opponents, Bangladesh, have long buried the minnows tag. They were semi-finalists in the 2016 edition, where they were led by Mehidy Hasan, who quickly graduated to international cricket. And Bangladesh were the second team that beat India in the Asia Cup, cementing their exit. Although the Indian team was not at full strength in that tournament, as they are now, they will still need to be wary.
In good batting conditions, India’s three left-arm spinners may not be as effective against a sub-continental team, born and bred on spin. So far, the trio have strangled the runs in the middle overs and even been employed in the first power play. Anukul Roy, who has nine wickets from his last two games, in particular has been excellent with his lines, employing the ‘you-miss-I-hit’ strategy to great effect.
“They’ve got experience to bowl on these wickets”, said Shaw of his spin trio. “How to take the wickets, if I use them in Power Play, they’ve got really good experience. Some of them have played Ranji Trophy as well and all those experiences come in.”
But in Queenstown, Riyan Parag’s off spin will be required; Bangladesh have at least five players in their squad who bat left-handed, among whom are Pinak Ghosh and Afif Hossain, who bat in the top order.
The schedule after the quarterfinal is not as laissez-faire as it has been in the group stages. So India would like not just to win, build some momentum towards the title clash, one game at a time.