Gunning for their fifth title after crushing Australia by 96 runs in the semifinal, a buoyant India — even more fired up after a pep talk by Virat Kohli — face England, who, after beating Afghanistan by 15 runs in the first semifinal are aiming for their first crown in 24 years, in the final of the 2022 Under-19 World Cup at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua on Saturday.
While the head coach is former India all-rounder Hrishikesh Kanitkar, the Under-19 team is also being guided by batting legend VVS Laxman, who is there in the West Indies as the head of the National Cricket Academy.
A win in the summit clash would help the India under-19s erase the memories of the last youth World Cup in South Africa in January 2020, when India lost an ill-tempered final to Bangladesh in South Africa. Unlike England, India have been a dominant force in in this tournament, having reached their eighth final — fourth in a row. No other team has reached as many finals or won more U-19 World Cups.
Putting on a complete show with both bat and ball in the second semifinal of the tournament at Coolidge in Antigua, India overcame a couple of early jolts through a massive 204-run stand for the third wicket between captain Yash Dhull, who scored a brilliant 110 and his deputy Shaik Rasheed (94) scored 290 for five — including 108 in the last 10 overs — before skittling out the Aussies for 194 in 41.5 overs, as their bowlers too came to the party.
It was India’s fifth win on the trot in the tournament, from which they were on the verge of being knocked out in the league stage after a surge in covid infections in the team meant that they only somehow managed to field 12 players against Ireland and Uganda.
There’s something about Delhi cricketers and the U-19 World Cup. Following on the footsteps of his Delhi ‘seniors’ Virat Kohli and Unmukt Chand, Dhull became the third Indian captain to slam a hundred. He will now love to emulate Kohli and Chand and left the coveted trophy on Saturday!
Till this point, Dhull, who should be a hit property in the IPL auction on February 12 & 13, has scored 212 runs in three email@example.com. His sequence of performances reads 82 vs South Africa in the opener, an unbeaten 20 as India chased 112 on a tricky wicket, and then a fabulous hundred against Australia.
Timing the ball in a sublime fashion, Dhull has shown the ability to plays shots all around the ground, though the cut shot, off both the pacers and spinners, looks like his biggest strength.
However, this team isn’t about Dhull at all. He, Rasheed, and five others were infected by the virus in the league, but have bounced back strongly from the disease. In their absence, Raj Bawa, who belongs to an illustrious family (his father Sukhwinder Singh Bawa coached Yuvraj Singh and his grandfather Tarlochan Bawa played for India in the 1948 Olympics) smashed 162 off 108 balls against Uganda, breaking Shikhar Dhawan’s record for the highest score by an Indian in the tournament.
In that game, India made 405 for five — their biggest total ever in the Under-19 World Cup.
Unlike in the semis, where they failed to get the team off to a good start, openers Angrish Raghuvanshi — the Mumbaikar has been India’s top run-scorer, having logged 278 runs in five games at an average of 55.60, with one century and one fifty — and Harnoor Singh will look to provide India with a fine start at the top.
As Dinesh Bana showed in the semis with his 4-ball unbeaten 20, India have the men to launch an assault at the ‘death.’
In left-arm pacer Ravi Kumar, who blew away Bangladesh’s top order in the quarterfinal with a three-wicket burst, right-arm seamer Rajvardhan Hangargekar, medium-pacer Bawa, spinners Vicky Ostwal (12 wickets at 10.75 in five games, including 3-42 in the semis against Australia), all-rounder Nishant Sindhu and Kaushal Tambe, India have a well-rounded bowling attack.
Like India, England have stayed unbeaten in this tournament so far. They looked in danger of losing their semifinal clash, before a three-wicket over by Rehan Ahmed, a Pakistan-origin leg-spinner, sealed the match in their favour.
Besides Ahmed, England’s biggest aces are captain Tom Prest (292 runs at an average of 73.00), who played for Hampshire in the T20s last year, and left-arm seamer Joshua Boydon, who has taken 13 wickets at 9.53.
Where they lag behind India is in their overall record and big-match experience in this tournament, which they have won just once before back in 1998. None of the present English team’s members were even born back then.