India’s amazing track record and an unbeaten run in the tournament makes coach Rahul Dravid’s boys overwhelming favourites to defeat the West Indies in the final of the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup in Mirpur on Sunday.
India is on a 15-match winning streak since losing to England in the quarter-final of the previous edition in the United Arab Emirates two years ago. It has won 20 of its 21 one-day matches since January 2014.
In the current tournament, India breezed through Group D with an all-win record against New Zealand, Nepal and Ireland, before crushing Namibia by 197 runs in the quarter-final and Sri Lanka by 97 runs in the semi-final.
However, past achievements alone don’t guarantee success in sport and the West Indies has done enough in the tournament so far to suggest it can go on to win its maiden title in the competition.
Skipper Shimron Hetmyer’s team has not looked back since the 61-run defeat to England in the opening match, having beaten Fiji and Zimbabwe in the group stage to qualify for the quarter-finals.
The West Indies reserved its best for the knock-out rounds, first stunning Pakistan by five wickets before ending host Bangladesh’s dream with a thrilling three-wicket win in Thursday's semi-final.
Hetmyer, Shamar Springer and the hard-hitting Gidron Pope starred in both the run-chases, while fast bowler Alzaari Joseph's fiery spells have often being timed at above 145 kmph.
India’s batting is led by Sarfaraz Khan, who has shored up the middle-order with four half-centuries in five matches to date. Explosive left-handed opener Rishabh Pant followed an 18-ball half-century against Nepal with 111 off 96 balls against Namibia.
Seamers Avesh Khan, Khaleel Ahmed and Rahul Batham have consistently rattled the top order, setting the stage for the spin duo of Mayank Dagar and Mahipal Lomror to take over.
The current players were not even born when the two sides last contested a final at any level – the 1983 World Cup final at Lord’s in which Kapil Dev’s India denied Clive Lloyd’s West Indies a hat-trick of titles.
But the success of their predecessors and seniors will inspire both teams to realise their ambition – India seeking a fourth Under-19 title and the West Indies its first.
“We are set for tomorrow,” said India captain Ishan Kishan. “There is obviously tension before every match and this is the World Cup final. We have reached our goal, now we need to achieve that goal.
“The West Indies too has been playing well. It will be a good game. We just need to follow our plans. We can't think too far ahead.”
Kishan said the team’s strategy against the West Indies pace attack was for him and his opening partner Rishabh Pant to see off the first 10-12 overs to set the stage for the later batsmen.
“We are not worried about facing any bowler,” he said. “The plan is to keep wickets in hand. If we do that we can get a big score on the board. 280 should be a good score, we will try for 300.”
Hetmyer said the West Indies was not over-awed by India’s unbeaten run in the tournament.
“In the semi-finals we played Bangladesh, which had also not lost a match, and we won that game. So I don’t think it matters what happened in the past,” he said.
“India is obviously a good team and we are excited about playing the final. It is a good feeling to have reached the final. We have come a long way in the last few months.
“We have turned into a very good unit. We have a very good bunch of cricketers with us. The journey has been good. We just need to keep it simple and play our best cricket in the final.
“We will give it our best shot. Win or lose, the players will benefit immensely by the experience of taking part in the tournament.”
TEAMS (to be selected from):
India - Ishan Kishan (capt.), , Rishabh Pant (vice-capt), Khaleel Ahmed, Zeeshan Ansari, Rahul Batham, Ricky Bhui, Mayank Dagar, Armaan Jaffer, Sarfaraz Khan, Amandeep Khare, Avesh Khan, Mahipal Lomror, Shubham Mavi, Anmolpreet Singh, Washington Sundar.
Coach – Rahul Dravid
West Indies – Shimron Hetmyer (capt.), Shahid Crooks, Keacy Carty, Michael Frew, Jyd Goolie, Chemar Holder Tevin Imlach, Alzarri Joseph, Ryan John, Kirstan Kallicharan, Gidron Pope, Keemo Paul, Odean Smith, Shamar Springer, Emmanuel Stewart.
Coach - Graeme West
On-field Umpires – Ruchira Palliyaguruge and Robert Bailey
Third Umpire – Mick Martel
Fourth Umpire – Adrian Holdstock
Match referee – Andy Pycroft