The story of Indian dominance had no end and resulted in a record fourth Under-19 World Cup title, as they defeated Australia by eight wickets in the final at Bay Oval in Tauranga on Saturday (February 3).
As has been the case through the tournament, India appeared too good for their opponents, and perhaps even the law of averages. And yet again, it was a complete team performance with multiple heroes. The leader of them all was Manjot Kalra, who led India to victory with a fluent, unbeaten 102-ball 101.
The bowlers first set up the victory, skittling out Australia for just 216 in 47.2 overs. Ishan Porel, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shiva Singh and Anukul Roy picked up two wickets apiece.
It was too low a target to trouble the Indian batting, which was led home in style by Kalra’s ton. The opener received good support from Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill and Harvik Desai, as India raced to victory in 38.5 overs.
In fact, it was Australia who had all the good fortune. They won the toss, had a couple of middle-order partnerships and had a decent platform going into the death overs. India too were slightly sloppy, dropping a couple of tough catches and missing run-out opportunities. Yet, Australia could not make use of all the lapses.
Every time Australia nosed ahead, India struck back. The final blow for Australia came in the death, when they lost seven wickets for just 33 runs after being 183 for 4.
But it all started differently. With the pitch being largely flat and not offering much swing for the pacers, Max Bryant and Jack Edwards, the openers, started quickly, but also perished to Ishan Porel. Bryant slapped one to cover point while Edwards punched straight to cover. By the tenth over, Australia were 52 for 2, and Porel had started in a much different manner than the way he did in the earlier game against Australia.
One would have expected Jason Sangha to learn from the openers’ mistakes but the skipper fell in similar fashion too, nicking Nagarkoti to the wicketkeeper while playing a loose drive.
The measured approach that Australia needed desperately came from Jonathan Merlo, with decent support from Param Uppal and later Nathan McSweeney. Merlo, dropped on 0 by Harvik Desai, and Uppal put Australia back on track by handling the spinners through the middle overs, patiently rotating strike with singles to the deep.
Roy broke the 75-run partnership when Uppal popped a return catch with a leading edge while trying to work one such single, but Australia still kept going with McSweeney adding 49 for the fourth wicket with Merlo.
A score of 183 for 4 in the 40th over wasn’t particularly a bad situation going into the death overs of a final, but things went haywire for Australia from there on.
It all started with McSweeney gently popping a return catch to Shiva Singh. The left-arm spinner struck again in his next over, inducing a nick off Will Sutherland.
It was down to Merlo to guide his side to the end but he too fell to a fancy stroke, reverse-sweeping Roy to deep cover.
Credit for the dismissals should partially go to Shaw as well. Observing that the Australians were playing the sweeps and paddles against the spinners, the India captain blocked square-leg and short fine-leg, forcing the batsmen to play down the ground or look for other scoring options, resulting in wickets.
Once the spinners were done with their work, the pacers took over, as Australia failed to bat out 50 overs.
Australia’s hopes relied on their pacers getting past the Indian top three, as their coach and captain kept stressing about in the lead up to the day. That wouldn’t happen, as Kalra bossed the chase.
Kalra and Shaw set the platform with a 71-run opening stand, both batsmen playing some exquisite shots. Shaw’s cover drives stood out, but his lazy footwork also cost him when he was bowled by Will Sutherland.
The dismissal only meant the 3000-plus crowd would witness some wonderful strokeplay from Gill. He came in with scores of 63, 90*, 86 and 102* behind him, and the confidence showed in the way he began. Some beautiful drives and punches flowed through his bat, albeit only for a brief time as he was deceived by Uppal’s flight for a 30-ball 31.
Meanwhile, Kalra silently matched and even outshone Shaw and Gill stroke-for-stroke. He drove through the line beautifully in languid style, and even went aerial, hitting the long ball down the ground.
He brought up his 50 off 47 balls, taking India past 100 within 16 overs. From there on, it was only a matter of flaunting his range of shots. Cover drives and back-foot punches – along the ground and over the fielders – and slog-sweeps flowed off his bat, as India raced towards history.