The tournament’s most successful side in history will take on first-time finalists but history will matter little on the big day as India and Bangladesh enter the title clash with form on their side.
When India and Bangladesh face off in the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup Super League Final in Potchefstroom, it will be the meeting of two undefeated sides in the tournament.
Sure, India have not tasted defeat in this tournament since the final of 2016, having won the 2018 edition unbeaten. But it does not carry anything more than statistical significance because: a) this is a completely different side by design and b) Bangladesh are arguably the best team in world cricket alongside going by results in youth ODIs.
Bangladesh, in fact, are on a nine-game unbeaten run which is their best ever. And moreover, when these two sides met in the Asia Cup Youth tournament, it was a humdinger of a final decided by the finest of margins, with Atharva Ankolekar turning out to be the star.
No country can better the four titles that India have won since first reigning supreme in 2000, with Priyam Garg’s side now looking for back-to-back tournament wins for the first time.
But the defending champions will have to work hard to defend their crown at JB Marks Oval, with Bangladesh seeking glory in what has already been an historic tournament in South Africa.
Never before have the Tigers reached the Super League final, their previous best efforts coming on home turf when finishing third in 2016. This year, however, they have broken through to show the world what they are all about – bidding to turn their maiden final into a first victory in Potchefstroom.
Bangladesh are a win away from captain Akbar Ali’s bold pre-tournament prediction that they could lift the trophy.
India on song
Standing between the young Tigers and glory is a formidable India side that blew away arch-rivals Pakistan by 10 wickets in the semi-finals.
In opening batsman Yashasvi Jaiswal, India boast the tournament’s leading runscorer. The attacking left-hander has compiled 312 runs at an astonishing average of 156 – having been dismissed just twice in five innings. Jaiswal needs 38 runs more to score the second-most runs by an Indian in a single U19 Cricket World Cup, behind Shikhar Dhawan.
His century against Pakistan, achieved with a match-clinching six, powered India into a seventh final and third on the trot, and captain Priyam Garg urged his team to stick to what has proved a successful formula.
“I would want us to follow the same process as we have done,” said Garg. “We have to approach the final just as another game that we have to play.”
India just four wickets in their opening three matches to top Group A ahead of New Zealand, Sri Lanka and debutants Japan.
From there they have not stopped, comprehensively beating three-time champions Australia in the Super League Quarter-Finals before chasing down 173 without losing a wicket against rivals Pakistan.
India have impressed with the ball as well, with Ravi Bishnoi needing four more wickets to finish atop the wicket-taking charts for South Africa 2020. Pacer Kartik Tyagi has been the other star.
“Being in the final means a lot to us, we had ten practice games before the tournament got started and got used to the conditions and pitches around the country,” said Garg.
“It will be a good game for everyone, the team bonding and spirit is really good, the backroom staff have helped us through that journey and we’re looking forward to it.
Joy for Bangladesh
Bangladesh have gone one step further than their run to the 2016 semi-finals, as Mahmudul Hasan Joy’s hundred against New Zealand laid the basis for a six-wicket win.
“This is the first time that Bangladesh have got to the final and we are all very happy,” said Mahmudul.
Bangladesh’s triumph set up a third all-Asian final in the U19 World Cup, but this is the first to be played outside the sub-continent.
“We will play it as a normal game. We can’t take the pressure of thinking that this is our first final,” said Bangladesh skipper Akbar.
“India is a very good side, and we have to play our ‘A’ game. We have to do the best in all three departments. Bangladeshi cricket fans are crazy, and I hope we will continue to get the same support that we’ve been getting.”
Their group stage started in scintillating fashion, overcoming Zimbabwe and Scotland by nine wickets (DLS) and seven wickets respectively to secure their place in the Super League.
The Tigers’ Group C decider against Pakistan was unfortunately washed out but their impressive start to the competition saw them finish as group winners.
Since then they haven’t looked back, comprehensively beating hosts South Africa in the Super League Quarter-Final before getting the better of New Zealand in the last four.
For all the players at this World Cup, there remains the dream not just of winning but doing enough to start forging a professional career in the game.
Joy’s 100 was the key in their successful chase of 212, but their batting so far has been a shared effort without over-reliance on any key players. Between Hridoy and Joy, the Bangladesh top order boasts of 10 U19 ODI centuries.
The bowling performances have equally been picked up throughout the team but few displays quite matched that of Rakibul Hasan, whose five for 19 helped Bangladesh beat South Africa to take their place in the semi-final.
Some big names have trodden this path before: current international captains Virat Kohli, Eoin Morgan and Kane Williamson all figured at the tournament in the past along with some of the greats of the recent past, players such as Brian Lara, Yuvraj Singh, Chris Gayle and Steve Smith.
The stage in Potchefstroom is set to see who if any young Indians or Bangladeshis are likely to join this elite band in the decade ahead.
The match will likely come down to which team deals with the big moments better and in a battle of undefeated teams, India hold a slight edge mentally.
(With AFP and ICC inputs)