First things first… India played a poor game against Australia at the U-19 World Cup final and were rolled over by a better team. Losses in the final have become a habit, irrespective of the level, junior or senior. The senior side lost to Australia at the World Test Championship final and then at the 50-over World Cup final. The boys went down to the Aussies in the U-19 World Cup final. On the face of it, India, across levels, have been struggling to come to terms with the weight of expectation.
Why did India lose on Sunday? They were tactically naive and unnecessarily ultra-defensive upfront during their run chase. Field settings weren’t spot on when Australia batted, and edges flew through the vacant slip region. As far as the batting was concerned, India lacked intent. On a challenging pitch, against a four-pronged Australian pace attack, they struggled.
And yet, there are reasons to be optimistic and some moments to cherish. A Musheer Khan drive against Charlie Anderson in the final was one. He moved into the delivery and leaned into the shot, and the ball raced to the long-off boundary for a four. Talent oozed. Style-wise, some commentators drew a Mohammad Azharuddin analogy.
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Musheer didn’t last long, getting out for 22 off 33 balls. But throughout the tournament, via his 360 runs in seven matches and two centuries, the youngster gave enough evidence that he could be a player for the future. Cricket at junior level shouldn’t be purely result-oriented and being over-critical will not serve any purpose. The U-19 World Cup is a stepping stone for the young players to reach the next level and India have some serious talent to look after.
Think about Uday Saharan, who led by example at the U-19 World Cup. A level-headed cricketer, he showed maturity beyond his years, especially when the chips were down. Saharan’s batting offers a throwback to the era in white-ball cricket when the batters liked to build their innings. His ability to absorb pressure stood out.
In India’s tournament opener against Bangladesh, Saharan walked in at 31-2 and stitched a 116-run third-wicket partnership with Adarsh Singh. The skipper himself stayed until the 39th over, scoring 64 off 94 deliveries to set up his team’s 84-run victory. In the semi-final against South Africa, India were reeling at 8-2 when Saharan walked out to bat. It soon became 32-4, but the 19-year-old was unfazed. Along with Sachin Dhas, he started the rebuilding job, added 171 runs for the fifth wicket and got out in the 49th over, when scores were level. Dhas was the showstopper, but Saharan walked away with the Player-of-the-Match award. It was the right choice.
Saharan returns from the U-19 World Cup as the tournament’s highest run-getter (397) and his partnership batting was excellent. Coming into the final, he forged a partnership of more than 50 in every game, including four in excess of hundred. The final was an aberration, and once he got out for eight, the writing was on the wall for India.
Then again, U-19 cricket is a celebration of youth and from that perspective, Indian cricket has a lot to look forward to. Spare a thought for Dhas, who prompted Ravichandran Ashwin to sit up and take note during his innings in the semi-final. “Can see so much of Shai Hope in Sachin Dhas’s coil and bat swing,” the master off-spinner wrote on X. “Wonderful composure and poise to this partnership between Sachin and Uday.”
In the bowling department, the likes of Saumy Pandey, Raj Limbani and Naman Tiwari showed that, subject to hard work and proper nurturing, they could go on to make a mark at a higher level. Their hard work starts now, for making the transition is not easy and the majority of cricketers fall by the wayside.
In 2018, after guiding India to the U-19 World Cup glory as the team’s head coach, Rahul Dravid urged his boys not to allow the moment to define their careers. “Hopefully it’s not a memory that defines them and they will have a lot bigger and better memories as they go on ahead in their careers,” he had said.
This is applicable in defeat as well, and as a new journey starts for the colts now, they should internalise Dravid’s words and move towards a bright future.