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U-19 World Cup final: ‘Thrice’ as bad!


India has much to ponder after their World Cup ambitions were given a reality check with bat and ball in a 79-run loss to Australia on a predictably balmy Sunday afternoon in South Africa’s Benoni.

Perhaps, in what was a chance to make a major statement in front of a sea of yellow at Willowmoore Park, the Indians were powerless as Australia stormed to a healthy 253 for seven, the highest total by any team in the U-19 World Cup final history, and conversely, India’s worst performance with the ball ever in this tournament.

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In response, the Australian teens were more ‘tug boat’ than ‘cruiser’, a lack of urgency – and disciplined bowling – having them capsize for a lowly 174 on the final ball of the day, ensuring India’s first defeat in the tournament, much like the senior team in the World Cup last November.

“It’s unbelievable. I am so proud of this group of boys and the coaches. A lot of work has gone in over the last few months,” Australia captain Hugh Weibgen said. “We had a fair bit of confidence that if we got 250 on the board, we’d defend it. India, obviously, is a class side, they dominated the whole tournament and they were on the wrong side today but they have a lot of class.”

India’s U-19 World Cup campaign seemed like a dream until Sunday, not because it was fleeting or because it would be something to fondly reminisce about in the future, but because each game, like a dream, had a tale to share.

But while Australia weren’t exactly favourites going into the summit clash, the pressure was definitely on India, the defending champions, to avenge the 2023 final defeat. Having said that, India has had the perfect tournament on their undefeated run to the final, riding the wave of home support and not looking like crumbling under the weight of a nation of 1.4 billion people.

“We played a few rash shots, couldn’t spend more time at the crease. We had prepared, but couldn’t execute,” said skipper Uday Saharan during the post-match presentation. “It was a very good tournament. I am very proud of the boys, they all played very well. They all showed great fighting spirit from the start, very proud of them. We got to learn a lot from the start to now. From the coaching staff to the games, learned a lot. Now we just need to keep learning more and move ahead.”

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If only India had managed to get away with several of those rash shots that undermined their batting expertise at large, it could have been their sixth title. This marked India’s fifth successive U-19 World Cup final appearance and their third against the Aussies, who had never beaten them in a U-19 World Cup final until Sunday.

Australia was also unbeaten throughout the tournament, and there was always a familiar sense that it would feel very much like a bonus if they won the final, much like their unexpected triumph at the 2021 T20 World Cup or the 2023 ODI World Cup. But it was simply victory or bust for India, who have been looking to overcome somewhat of an ICC hoodoo, but to no avail.

Cricket pundits would argue that the power balance in global cricket has tilted more towards India over the past decade via the Indian Premier League and the far-reaching control of India’s governing cricket body, the BCCI. No doubt, be it at the senior level or the U-19, India has been a dominant force in cricket for some time, but the truth is, there aren’t any regular trophies to show for it.

India’s World Cup campaign on Sunday ended with a familiar sight, as Saharan left the field in tears, reviving memories of senior men’s team captain Rohit Sharma’s sorrowful reaction to the team’s exit in the final last year. Yet though downcast at their defeat, Saharan’s boys at least have the consolation of knowing that they did everything in their power to work a miracle and squeeze into the final stage. But who can fight destiny after all?!

(With quotes from PTI)



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