Over the 13 completed editions of the U-19 World Cup, India and Australia are the most successful teams with four and three titles respectively. It is illustrative of two things: the depth of talent in both countries and the systems they have set up from the junior level. However, one of them will get a chance to add to their numbers if they close the horns in the second semi-final of the 2022 edition in Antigua on Wednesday.
Although both teams have been affected by Covid cases, it has not hindered their progress. Much to the relief of India, they have a full team to choose from for the semi-finals. All-rounder Nishant Sindhu has also recovered from Covid after missing the quarter-final victory against Bangladesh. Haryana’s south leg will likely return at No. 5 instead of Siddharth Yadav.
“It was not difficult for the players to come back from Covid. We got regular calls from VVS Laxman sir (head of the National Cricket Academy and with the team in the Caribbean) who told us that we were in the good mentality should be for the games, “said India U-19 skipper Yash Dhull. The Delhi boy was among six players in his side to test Covid positively.
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India owes much of its success to the bowling unit, which so far has not conceded a total of more than 187. That attempt came in the opening match against South Africa when they had only 232 runs to defend. Since then, India’s opponents have played handball for 133, 79 and 111.
The pair of new ball Rajvardhan Hangargekar and Ravi Kumar set the tone, without exception picking up wickets in their opening remarks to cut back the opposition. While Hangargekar is the faster of the two, Kumar’s left arm angle and swing pose a varied threat. He took three wickets in his first burst against Bangladesh and then let the spinners do their bit on a useful surface at the Coolidge Cricket Ground.
Given that the place is the same for the semi-finals, there may be another opposition with low scores on the cards. The two quarterfinals at Coolidge saw the site first at 111 and 134.
Against the Australians, the Indian spinners will be a greater onus to bear the responsibility. The Australian beaters, in line with their traditional strengths, have not had much trouble against pacers. Their only defeat came against Sri Lanka in the group stage, when eight of the 10 Australian wickets fell to turn. Sri Lankan captain Dunith Wellalage took five of those for just 28 runs in 10 sucking victories of left-arm spin.
Even in the quarter-final against Pakistan which Australia won extensively, off-spinner Qasim Akram inflicted maximum damage with figures of 10-0-40-3.
India has no shortage of spin options. Left-arm spinner Vicky Ostwal is among the top-10 wicket-takers in the event, his nine wickets in four matches covering a five-for against South Africa.
“The role of spinners will be important. They create pressure for us by focusing on bowling dot balls,” Dhull said. “Ostwal has turned and bounced and gets a good grip. He will be very effective in this field. He is one of my go-to bowlers.”
Ostwal will be supported by off-spinner Kaushal Tambe and left-arm spinner Sindhu. Opening bat Angkrish Raghuvanshi can also contribute a few hours of part-time off-spin.
For the Aussies, opener Teague Wyllie has an important role to play with the bat. The Western Australian has scores of 71, 101 * and 86 * in three of his last four innings, and has adapted well to the slow-moving places of the Caribbean despite learning his cricket in Perth.
There will also be added focus on Native American all-rounder Nivethan Radhakrishnan. The ambidextrous Australian spinner started with four wickets in his first two games, but missed the last two games due to Covid. He is expected to be fit for the semi-finals.