Just as their seniors, the juniors too couldn’t tick the final box. That too, against the same opposition — Australia.
The Rohit Sharmas and Virat Kohlis were dominant right through last year’s ODI World Cup in India, smashing everyone en route to the final, making it look like a matter of one game before the nation won its third 50-over Cup crown. But against the Australians in that decider at the Motera in Ahmedabad, the “gladiators” looked clueless.
Uday Saharan and his teammates, too, were brushing all opponents aside till they were put to a little bit of a test by hosts South Africa in this U-19 World Cup. But in the all-important final at the Willowmoore Park in Benoni on Sunday, Australia thrashed them by 79 runs to emerge U-19 champions, breaking India’s domination in the tournament and winning the title for the fourth time.
In a way strikingly similar to last year’s ODI Cup final in Ahmedabad, it was the quicks of Australia who demolished India. In Ahmedabad, Mitchell Starc, captain Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood had broken the back of India’s batting to lay the foundation for Australia’s victory.
On Sunday in Benoni, after the Australian batters focused on grinding out the not-too-easy batting conditions to post 253/7, their pace quartet – Callum Vidler, Charlie Anderson, Tom Straker and Mahli Beardman – were pivotal to bowling the in-form Indian line-up out for 174 with 37 balls remaining.
Comparing these Indian colts with the senior pros who keep fumbling in semi-finals and finals of ICC events would be a tad unfair, though. Right through this edition of the U-19 World Cup, the likes of Musheer Khan, Sachin Dhas and skipper Saharan had done commendably with the bat, maintaining their composure even during pressure situations.
With the ball too, quicks Raj Limbani and Naman Tiwari, alongside left-arm spinner Saumy Pandey — India’s highest wicket-taker with 18 scalps and second-highest in the competition — had made sure they delivered.
To be fair to this trio of Indian bowlers, they didn’t give much away in Sunday’s final, either. But what stands out again and again is the mental toughness of these Australians, be it the senior or the junior level.
In last year’s 50-over Cup too, Cummins and Co. had got off to a slow start, peaked gradually and then simply hammered India in the final, silencing the partisan crowd at an amphitheatre-like atmosphere. A tough time in the semi-final against South Africa at the Eden Gardens didn’t seem to have had any effect on them at all.
Led by Hugh Weibgen, these Aussie colts too had almost lost the plot in the semi-final against Pakistan before somehow sneaking home with a wicket in hand. But Australians have a habit of bringing their A-game into play in matches that count, which Weibgen and his teammates also proved.
Grinding out tough periods without being too excited is one of the must-dos of a final. Weibgen (48), Harjas Singh (55), opener Harry Dixon (42) and Oliver Peake (46 not out) did exactly so in mostly overcast conditions in Benoni, with India’s bowlers too not giving much away.
With the sun peeping out only on occasions in the second half, India’s run chase wasn’t to be too easy. The Aussie quicks ensured it only became tougher and tougher as they targeted the stumps, dug it in short and cramped India’s batters up for room.
For the Indians, there’s every reason to be distraught. More so, as the batters, who were consistent right through the tournament, faltered in the game that mattered most. However, this could well go on to be a huge learning curve for the Saharans and Musheers.
This could give them an idea of the kind of mental resolve and grit they need to claw out of difficult positions, once they are a regular at the senior level.