On November 19, 2023, Rohit Sharma’s men entered the Narendra Modi Stadium carrying the weight of expectations of billions of people. They were up against a team they beat in the group stage. They were favourites on paper and the ground, but only till midway through the first innings. Pat Cummins and Co. literally calmed the sea of blue in Ahmedabad, beating the home side by six wickets to lift their sixth ODI World Cup title.
Less than three months later, the juniors of the two teams came face-to-face on the same stage in South Africa and the story was no different. The Men in Blue suffered yet another heartbreaking defeat in a major international final when their U19 side were defeated by 79 runs at Willowmoore Park in Benoni. Australia won their fourth U19 World Cup title, narrowing down the gap between five-time winners India.
What is another element that both tournaments have in common? Both the Indian junior and senior teams were unbeaten throughout the tournament but lost to Australia in the final. Why is India failing to cross the final hurdle? Are they unable to handle the pressure? How is it that Australia manages to come out with flying colours in almost every competition they step into?
Including the 2021-23 World Test Championship (WTC) final loss, the U19 debacle was India’s third upset in an ICC final against Australia in the last 8 months. The Kangaroos are making a statement that there is no point in winning the bilateral series if you are not able to get your hands on the world title. Yes, India are heroes in bilateral matches, but when it comes to multi-national tournaments, they are the second-best team.
Be it the junior team or the senior team, Australia’s dominance is consistent. They have won 27 ICC tournaments in their cricket history, 14 of which were won by their men’s team. Isn’t that enough to make Australia synonymous with dominance? Cummins and his troop are slowly bringing back the golden era of Australian cricket by dominating multi-formats. But what’s next? Are they going to maintain this pace in the coming years? Well, the 2024 U19 World Cup gave a hint to that.
Australia continue to churn out clutch players
“I think they have created their own legacy,” Cummins said after the ODI World Cup win. David Warner, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Travis Head, Mitchell Starc, Hazlewood and the captain himself were the answer to who would retain the ‘mighty’ tag of Australian cricket. Bear in mind, they have excellent bench strength with some ‘Big Bash’ sensations, Matt Short, Josh Brown, Xavier Bartlett and Spencer Johnson to name a few. But who after them? Mahli Beardman, Callum Vidler, Tom Straker, Harry Dixon and Hugh Weibgen have the fitting reply.
With 309 and 304 runs respectively from seven matches, Dixon and skipper Weibgen finished the U19 campaign as the third and fourth leading run scorers. Meanwhile, Vidler and Straker – the fifth and sixth leading wicket-takers – ended up with 14 and 13 wickets respectively from six matches. But what makes them champion players? All of them contributed well to the all-important final.
Weibgen (48 off 66) and opener Dixon (42 off 56) added 70+ runs for the second wicket. Australia, who opted to bat first, lost them both in quick succession, but Harjas Singh rose to the occasion and put up his best score of the tournament. His 64-ball 55 and Oliver Peake’s 46 off 43 balls brought Australia back into the game. Australia eventually ended up with the highest total in a U19 World Cup final – 253/7.
The scoreboard already gave the Men in Yellow the upper hand and beyond that, Vidler’s stunning opening spell gifted them an early wicket. The right-arm pacer threatened the opposition with two maidens in his first three overs. Mahli Beardman and off-spinner Raf MacMillan then wreaked havoc with three crucial wickets in quick succession. The duo dismissed captain Uday Saharan and Sachin Dhas, two inform batters, before they could make much of an impact on the scoreboard. Two of India’s top performers with the bat in the tournament were back in the hut and India took a back seat. They were eventually bowled out for 174 runs in 43.5 overs.
India need to break the ‘final’ jinx
South Africa, who have never won a title apart from the 1998 Champions Trophy, are considered the biggest chokers in ICC tournaments. But slowly the tag is coming to India as well and it was trending on X (formerly known as Twitter) after their U19 loss. Making the final was an achievement in itself, but India needed to break the jinx and end their 10+ year ICC trophy drought. India’s time will surely come and they will learn from their losses and keep doing what they have to do. Remember, it took the legend Sachin Tendulkar 22 years to win the world title.
There is no dearth of talent in India either. Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami are all bossing the world of cricket right now. Youngsters Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill have already proved that they are ready to take on the challenge ahead. The U19 World Cup also showcased the potential of future Indian players. Skipper Saharan (the tournament’s leading run scorer with 397 runs) and Dhas were brilliant throughout the campaign. Saumy Pandey finished the tournament as the second-highest wicket-taker (18 wickets). The future is in safe hands. Trust the process and India’s time will come.
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