Friday, February 23, 2024

U-19 World Cup: Uday Saharan’s India come up short against Australia in final

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Australia hadn’t beaten India in their previous ten meetings at the U-19 level. They hadn’t beaten India in two previous U-19 World Cup finals either. Now consign this information to the trash bin. Because Australia, at the moment, just seem to be outplaying India in marquee finals. The senior Australian team popped the champagne twice last year at India’s expense, in the World Test Championship in June and at the World Cup in November.

Australia’s U19’s Mahli Beardman, left, celebrates the wicket of India’s Uday Pratap Saharan (AP)

On Sunday, it was the turn of rookie Australian faces to celebrate wildly, after clinching a convincing 79-run victory against five-time winners India to win the 2024 U-19 World Cup at Willowmoore Park in Benoni, South Africa. Australia secured their fourth U-19 World Cup title as a result, second only to India’s overall count. The win was set up by a solid

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batting performance that lifted them to 253/7 — the highest total in the history of U-19 World Cup finals. Their top scorer was Harjas Singh, who contributed a 64-ball 55 at No.4. A Sikh born in Sydney in 2005 — five years after his parents migrated from Chandigarh— Harjas’s effort was entirely unexpected only because he had scored 39 runs in six games before Sunday. Once the Australian batters got their act together, India had to respond with a robust start to the run chase.

They didn’t, losing Arshin Kulkarni for three runs in the third over. Things could have quickly gone from bad to worse when Musheer Khan, still to get off the mark, edged a delivery by Charlie Anderson to Harry Dixon at first slip. The chance was spilled. It seemed like this could be Musheer’s day when he struck a couple of delightful drives down the ground for boundaries. Soon enough, however, he was also walking back after inside-edging a length delivery by a moustached Mahli Beardman onto his stumps.

Having scraped to a target of 245 from 32/4 thanks to skipper Uday Saharan and Sachin Dhas in the semi-final versus South Africa, India’s hopes were again pinned on the duo. But this proved to be a bridge too far as Saharan and Dhas fell in the space of 14 deliveries. Saharan, like his Australian counterpart Hugh Weibgen, was guilty of playing an uppish square drive to backward point for Beardman’s second scalp.

Dhas was caught behind off Australian spinner Raf MacMillan’s very first delivery, playing for the turn when there was none. The offie went on to add the scalps of Aravelly Avanish and Raj Limbani to his stash. Opener Adarsh Singh hung on for some time to make 47 (77 balls) while Abhishek Murugan entertained with a 46-ball 42 at No.8. But the result was a foregone conclusion by that stage.

Beardman was adjudged Player-of-the-Match for figures of 7-2-15-3. Unlike the earlier games, India’s bowlers weren’t all that impressive on Sunday. After the early dismissal of Sam Konstas, bowled between bat and pad by Raj Limbani’s big inswinger, they allowed Weibgen and Dixon to consolidate with a 78-run stand.

Dixon, a left-handed dasher who landed a Big Bash League (BBL) contract last September and hopes to emulate David Warner, raced to 15 off seven deliveries, but slowed down once Weibgen began hogging most of the strike. While Saharan brought on Saumy Pandey and Musheer inside the first ten overs, ostensibly because Weibgen had been dismissed thrice by left-arm spinners in this tournament, the Australian skipper was a lot more assured in his footwork this time. The partnership between Australia’s two in-form batters grew steadily as they moved to 87/1 in 20 overs.

That’s when the Indian skipper went back to left-arm pacer Naman Tiwari, whose only over till then had gone for 15 runs. He seemed set to leak more when he was greeted back into the attack with a boundary by Dixon, but the pacer was soon to turn things around. Bowling from around the wicket, he removed Weibgen first. In his next over he outfoxed Dixon with a knuckle ball as Murugan, stationed at cover, moved swiftly to his left to complete an excellent catch.

If India heaved a sigh of relief once Weibgen and Dixon, their leading run-scorers, were back in the hut, it was entirely understandable given the lean returns from the Australian middle-order till the final. But Harjas had something to say. Having enjoyed the backing of the Australian team management, the left-handed batter seemed to save his best for the final. Once he overcame those early jitters, apparent was the ability spotted by noted coach Neil D’Costa, who has trained Michael Clarke, Phil Hughes and Marnus Labuschagne, among others.

Harjas took a liking to India’s spinners, sweet timing carrying the ball comfortably beyond the boundary thrice. His first six came off Moliya’s part-time off-breaks when he stepped out for a free swing over long-on. Murugan, also an off-spinner, took punishment too as Harjas clobbered sixes over midwicket and wide long-on. It was Pandey who eventually trapped Harjas leg-before but not before he had swung the momentum Australia’s way.

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