Results – check. Batsmen in form – check. Pacers on song – check. Spinners doing their thing – check.
The Indian Under-19 team is living up to its reputation and seem a well-oiled machine going into the quarterfinal. They have won each game convincingly – beating Australia by 100 runs before walloping Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe by 10 wickets each – but have done so with the bigger picture in mind – the knockout stages.
While the dominant performance against Australia yet again reinforced the skills the Indian boys possess, the games against Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe gave them an opportunity to plan for tougher challenges. They did just that – experimenting with their combinations even while respecting the opposition.
India could have easily opted to bat first after winning the toss against Papua New Guinea. Free runs – and potentially a few records – were there to be taken, like how Australia did on Friday (January 19) in their game against PNG.
But that wasn’t the preparation India were after. India first wanted to ensure qualification, and for that, they needed a win. As Abhishek Sharma, the left-arm spinner, said a day ahead of the Zimbabwe game, India had already paid the price for looking too far ahead when they lost to Nepal in the Asia Cup last year.
Lessons learnt, India came out all guns blazing and smashed out PNG in a little over three hours. It was almost a sorry sight to watch PNG’s batsmen struggle against India’s pace duo of Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi, but there was no mercy.
Prithvi Shaw then extended the theme with a quick half-century.
“We always talk that should learn to win the games, every game is important to us even if you’re playing against a weaker team,” Shaw, their captain explained India’s thought process on Friday. “We still have to play to our standards, to our professionalism, so this is what we talk about.
“If you can see in every game, we’ve got that intensity and attitude on the field. Whichever team we’re playing against, we play with the same intensity. We carry the same attitude, and because of those things, we are winning all the games.”
The PNG match was all about being ruthless and sealing the deal. Friday’s clash against Zimbabwe was more of experimenting with combinations.
India made two changes, drafting in Harvik Desai and Riyan Parag in place of Aryan Juyal and Himanshu Rana. With India also forced to make a change in the second game – Arshdeep Singh replacing the injured Ishan Porel – they go into the quarterfinal with 14 of their 15 players having played the group stages. Only Pankaj Yadav, the legspinner, is yet to get a chance.
Experiments on Friday weren’t restricted to the team selection. The batting order was rejigged too. Shaw and Manjot Kalra, the regular openers, had already got enough time in the middle in the first two games. India promoted Shubman Gill and Desai, and pleasingly for them, both the experiments paid off. Gill smashed an unbeaten 90 while Desai, although not as convincing as his partner, enjoyed his stay at the crease and came away with an unbeaten 56.
The bowling unit looks in shape too. If Nagarkoti and Mavi were the talk of the town after outpacing Australia, Anukul Roy has silently made a name for himself with his left-arm spin. Although they’ve come against the lesser teams, Roy’s performances against PNG and Zimbabwe show the depth in bowling.
Arshdeep too has stepped in nicely as the third pacer, adding to India’s options. The attack will only be strengthened if Porel recovers from his bruised heel. India’s performances in the group stage has ensured he has plenty of time, for the quarterfinal is only on January 26.
Is it almost a problem of plenty now? “We now have options,” said Shaw, looking at the situation on a positive note.
If anything, the two 10-wicket victories, and the openers’ long partnership against Australia means India’s middle order hasn’t had much time.
And in general, the Indian boys haven’t been tested or stretched in any of their games. With tougher challenges and the pressure of knockouts awaiting them, how they react if they are tested at some stage will be interesting to watch.