ICC U-19 WC: Australia Feel At Home in NZ, Can India Beat Them?

New Zealand have hosted the tournament twice before, in 2002 and 2010, and Australia have won both times.

Updated
Cricket
5 min read
The Indian team under coach Rahul Dravid (extreme right) will be eyeing their fourth U-19 title.
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In its history, demographics and culture, New Zealand, host of the ICC Under-19 World Cup, has much in common with neighbouring Australia. In both countries, the indigenous population was once repressed but is now recognised. Their flags can be confusing to the untrained eye, and their multicultural cities can easily be mistaken for one another. The two are separated by the Tasman sea but joined at the hip; rivals on the field of sport but partners in war and peace. Even at the airports, New Zealand customs have a combined queue for New Zealand and Australian nationals.

Traditional Maori dance being performed at the opening ceremony of the event.
Traditional Maori dance being performed at the opening ceremony of the event.
(Photo: ICC)

It is this antipodean partnership that makes Australia the favourites for the title at the Under-19 World Cup in 2018. As compared to teams from the sub continent, Australia will be more at home in New Zealand, with conditions very similar to their own, especially if featherbed pitches – now the norm in limited overs cricket – are prepared. Then there is this statistic: New Zealand have hosted the tournament twice before, in 2002 and 2010. Both times Australia have won it.

Australia’s primary rivals will be India, as foreign to New Zealand as Australia are familiar. India are the only other team besides Australia to have won three titles. And the two top contenders will start their campaigns against each other, having both been drawn in Group B.

India’s recent form looks underwhelming on paper: Their last international series was the Asia Cup in November 2017, where they lost to Nepal and Bangladesh and failed to make the semis. But it is worth noting that the team India sent to Sri Lanka for that tournament was well under full strength, with first choice players either reserved for domestic cricket or undergoing rehab.

India captain Prithvi Shaw directs his field in the warm-up match against South Africa. 
India captain Prithvi Shaw directs his field in the warm-up match against South Africa. 
(Photo: ICC)

India have made eight changes to that team, and they flexed some of that recalled muscle in their warm up fixture. Against South Africa they showed that there is more to this team than just Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill, the star batters. Both were dismissed with the team total just over 50, but India went on to post 332 for 8, with half centuries from Aryan Juyal and Himanshu Rana. The bowlers then followed up to skittle South Africa out for 143, fast bowler Ishan Porel taking 4 for 23.

The biggest plus for India is the fact that six players have played First Class cricket for their states in the Ranji Trophy.

Ranji Trophy is a great experience for a youngster, to score runs there will be very useful for U-19 season. You learn about batting and tactics that higher level players use, as in domestic you have a lot of players who have played for India. So that helps.
Prithvi Shaw, Indian U-19 captain

“It’s always nice,” said coach Rahul Dravid, of having First Class experience in the team. “They’ve played slightly higher level of cricket, so nice for them to bring that experience into conditions which are slightly going to be different for us.”

Australia too have had good preparation, having come off a series against Pakistan Under-19s just before 2017 ended. Their players will be fresh from playing their domestic summer in what is widely considered the most competitive circuit in the world. Captain Jason Sangha recently became the second youngest to score a First Class 100 against England, when he put up 133 in a pre-Ashes warm up game. And Australia also showed good form in their warm up match, beating Sri Lanka by 53 runs, with Will Sutherland – son of Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland – picking up three wickets.

Captain Jason Sangha of Australia bats during the warm-up match against Sri Lanka.
Captain Jason Sangha of Australia bats during the warm-up match against Sri Lanka.
(Photo: ICC)

Perhaps more than the batters, it will be the pace bowling attacks that will decide the outcomes of games, given the cool and windy conditions in New Zealand. And in that department India are well stocked. Shivam Mavi and Ishan Porel were among the wickets in the Challenger Trophy, and Kamlesh Nagarkoti can be lethal when there is lateral movement. Look out also for uncapped leg spinner Pankaj Yadav, who could be used as a surprise weapon and be given a debut against the pace friendly Australians.

The two giants will feature in the first match in Group B, but it is Group A that can claim the title of ‘Group of Death.’ It features the defending champions Windies, 2014 champions South Africa, and hosts New Zealand, besides minnows Kenya. With only two teams proceeding to the quarterfinals, one major team is certain to miss the cut. Even Group D, featuring two-time winners Pakistan and current Asian champions Afghanistan will be a high pressure affair. Afghanistan twice beat Pakistan in the Asia Cup, and are perhaps the most exciting team of the tournament. Group D also features Sri Lanka, led by Kamindu Mendis, who made headlines in the last World Cup for his ability to bowl with both arms.

Current Asian champions Afghanistan players in a huddle ahead of their warm-up match against Bangladesh.
Current Asian champions Afghanistan players in a huddle ahead of their warm-up match against Bangladesh.
(Photo: ICC)

Looking to win away from home is a theme in Indian cricket this year, and it is no different for the Under-19 side. So Prithvi Shaw’s young men will be keen to provide a bit of a culture shock in New Zealand, and set the tone for the rest of the year.

(The author is a former India cricketer and now a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She can be reached at @SnehalPradhan)

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