Manjot Kalra leads India Under-19 to World Cup glory
India Under-19 217 for 2 (Kalra 101*, Desai 47*, Gill 31) beat Australia Under-19 216 all out (Merlo 76, Uppal 34, Anukul 2-32, Shiva Singh 2-36) by eight wickets
India sauntered to a record fourth Under-19 World Cup title in front of a partisan crowd of 4000 odd at Bay Oval, to finish an unbeaten campaign that had begun against Australia at the same venue three weeks ago. The margin of victory then was 100 runs, and it was comprehensive in the grand final as well - eight wickets.
To win the tournament, India pulled off their second highest successful chase in U-19 World Cups, after the 226 to beat Australia in Townsville in 2012. Unmukt Chand had led that chase with a sublime century, and on Saturday another Delhi boy, Manjot Kalra, reprised the feat. In the tournament opener against Australia, Kalra had missed his century by 14 runs in an effort to hit out; he was unbeaten on 101 off 102 balls in the final.
Kalra, driven by instinct and hand-eye coordination, powered India along with fellow opener Prithvi Shaw, after a short rain delay four overs into the chase. It began with a free-hit which he biffed for six, and the high notes came when he took Jack Edwards for three boundaries in the 11th over. When Will Sutherland got one to move away and bowl Shaw for 29, India were 71 for 1.
Australia's relief was short lived, as they watched the in-form Shubman Gill - averaging over 100 in Youth ODIs and having made six successive 50-plus scores - play three exquisite cover drives within five minutes of his arrival at the crease. Kalra went on to bring up a 47-ball half-century. The signs were ominous for Australia there on and Kalra finished with a strike rate of nearly 100, having struck eight fours and three sixes. Wicketkeeper-batsman Harvik Desai chipped in with a spunky 47 and it was his sliced four over backward point that triggered manic celebrations in the Indian camp.
However, to say India's win was down to just their batting would not do justice to left-arm spinner Shiva Singh. Despite not having taken a wicket in the tournament, Shiva had kept his spot because of his economy and ability to maintain pressure in the middle overs. In the final, he made a telling contribution - 10-0-36-2.
Nathan McSweeney's dismissal for 23 was particularly significant because Australia were just starting to accelerate going into the last 10 overs of their innings. Looking to nudge the ball on the leg side, McSweeney was deceived in flight and lobbed a simple return catch. In his next over, Shiva removed Will Sutherland with an arm ball that held its line to flick the inside edge to the wicketkeeper. The catch was the start of a turnaround for Desai, who had earlier missed two half-chances off Australia's openers.
Max Bryant, who had tallied just 93 runs in five innings coming into the final, looked in sparkling touch until he slapped Ishan Porel's short ball straight to Abhishek Sharma at cover point to give India an opening. Edwards carried on, hitting Shivam Mavi for back-to-back boundaries in the seventh over to sustain Australia's aggression. With Australia having raised their fifty in the 10th over and the pitch holding no demons, Edwards and Jason Sangha had an opportunity to press on.
That wasn't to be, as Porel claimed his second wicket when Edwards punched a short delivery straight to Kamlesh Nagarkoti at cover. It should have been 53 for 3 almost immediately, but for Desai's reprieve of Jonathan Merlo on 0 as he attempted a cut off Shiva in the 11th over. Desai found redemption in the next over , when he dived full length to his right to snaffle Sangha. Australia were in trouble at 59 for 3.
Param Uppal, Australia's top scorer in the domestic Under-19 tournament in the lead-up to the World Cup, brought a sense of calm to proceedings. He exhibited a strong back-foot game against pace and equal adeptness against spin to milk runs through conventional means. Uppal's confidence rubbed off on Merlo, who wasn't afraid to experiment. He played reverse-sweeps and delicate paddles and they raised a half-century stand in 11.2 overs.
As Merlo grew in confidence, he wasn't afraid to get across the stumps and sweep left-arm spinner Anukul Roy against the turn. Australia looked to shift gears, but lost Uppal for 34 when he chipped a leading edge back to Roy. The two deliveries leading up the wicket had played their part: Roy had seen Uppal charge down and shortened his length, and then fired the next one full. Off the third, he deceived Uppal in flight as the batsman looked to work the ball against the turn.
McSweeney then came in and played some sublime shots, but the pattern of batsmen wasting starts just when Australia looked to take off continued. From 183 for 4, Australia collapsed. losing their last six wickets for 33 runs to leave 16 deliveries unused in their innings.
India started their chase aggressively, with Shaw unfurling three exquisite cover drives. Then his trigger movement of having his back foot move towards the leg side worked against him. Gill had the opportunity to move past Alick Athanaze as the leading run-getter in the tournament. His 30-ball 31 was attractive, but he was out charging the offspinner Uppal.
By then, India had powered to 131 for 2, and Kalra took charge and led his team to Under-19 World Cup glory.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo