India depart for World Cup as title favourites
The defending champions of the Under-19 World Cup, India, have won all four series they have played since the 2012 tournament in Australia, making them one of the most successful junior teams in the world. The coach and captain, Bharat Arun and Vijay Zol respectively, have said that they will draw confidence from those victories ahead of the 2014 World Cup set to begin next week in the UAE.
The present squad came together in July last year for the Top End Series in Darwin, beating the hosts, Australia, comprehensively in the final. That was followed by a short bilateral one-day series in Sri Lanka which India won 2-0. India then hosted a quadrangular tournament in Vizag, with South Africa, Australia and Zimbabwe the other participating teams. India trounced South Africa in the final before heading to the UAE for the U-19 Asia Cup. They maintained their reputation of raising the bar in tournament finals, batting Pakistan out of the match.
Arun said that while the team has ticked off most boxes as far as preparation is concerned, there is still improvement in certain areas.
"The performance of the squad in the last one year says a lot. We have won all four series convincingly," Arun said in Bangalore ahead of the team's departure for the UAE. "There is room for us to improve. We would still have to raise the bar. We made a few mistakes along the way. We want to be No. 1 as a fielding unit and we've been working on it."
The squad has been training at the National Cricket Academy over the last few weeks and in between headed to Wayanad, Kerala, for a short boot camp. The 2012 unit underwent a similar boot camp and Arun said the focus was on team-building exercises and getting to know one and other better.
"We identified roles for each team member and set the processes to achieve those roles," Arun said. "We did a lot of team-building activities and most of the activities would help you even in a non-cricketing environment and it helps you trust the leader.
"We have been together for over a year. They see the other side of the player. We're going to enjoy playing together, being together, doing things together and we're going to carry this to the field and that was the focus of the camp."
Arun coached the 2012 batch as well and he said the current unit has responded well to the challenges set to them. While the batting has a couple of known faces in Zol and Sanju Samson, Arun said the bowling boasts of variety.
"I don't think it's fair to compare any two teams, but I feel that this side has a lot of players of all-round capabilities," he told ESPNcricinfo before the boot camp. "They have dominated in whichever country they have toured. Kuldeep [Yadav] is unorthodox, Aamir Gani is the classical offspinner, Deepak Hooda is good for the Powerplays, our fast bowling attack looks exciting."
Zol said the conditions in the UAE will suit India's game more than it did in Australia two years ago. "The pitches in the UAE didn't have much help for the pacers [during the Asia Cup]," he said. "It was more like a batting paradise."
India begin their campaign against Pakistan on February 15 in Dubai.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo