Fancied India disappoint on big stage
The cruel reality of the knockout scenario is that one bad day or session can consign all the hard work and success earned in the lead-up to the nearest bin. India Under-19s came into the World Cup as the most successful junior side in the world, winning all four series played since the current unit was moulded last year, thereby building on the 2012 squad's success.
India had the firepower to defend their title and were primed to enter the final four after winning their three group games. A quarter-final choke, though, meant that the best India can achieve in this tournament is fifth place. Given the weight of expectations on this team, from the public and themselves, it's a step down.
The disappointment was apparent on captain Vijay Zol's face as he trudged up the stairs to the media room after the presentation ceremony. Zol's experienced a World Cup triumph before, as has his team-mate Akhil Herwadkar, but the rest haven't. Those who have age on their side, like Sarfaraz Khan, might have a second shot in two years' time. But players like Zol and Sarfaraz, who live and breathe cricket, having sacrificed a regular school life to further their game, this defeat must be particularly gutting.
The pressure and intensity was evident with the way Aamir Gani gave Ed Barnard a mouthful when he dismissed him when India were desperate for a wicket. Even the normally cool and collected Zol was fired up after he took the catch to get rid of Ben Duckett when he took the game away from India.
Zol had barely had time to gather his thoughts when he took questions. Having made a strong recovery to reach 221 after being 24 for 4, Zol said a few more runs would have made the difference.
Despite India's top order not clicking consistently in the tournament, Zol made a brave decision to bat first under overcast conditions. The England seamers got the batsmen edging behind the wicket and not for the first time in the tournament, the lower order had to clean up the mess. Zol too played an important part in the recovery, as well as Deepak Hooda who scored 68.
"I completely back my decision (at the toss) and my team backed me," Zol said. "Yes, there were a few quite weird dismissals. [Matthew] Fisher deserves credit for taking three wickets and we were in a bit of panic. I think that was the difference.
"When I and Hooda started batting, the wicket settled down and it started coming on to the bat better as compared to early in the morning. It was a matter of eight to ten overs, but they bowled well."
India made a tactical change with Hooda and Sarfaraz swapping places in the batting order. Sarfaraz had fashioned two recoveries at No. 6, including one with Hooda when India were in danger of imploding against Scotland. Against England, Hooda showed he could occupy the crease in a pressure scenario, top scoring with 68. Sarfaraz still had 17 overs to bat and he found time to smash an unbeaten 52 off 46 balls.
"Hooda can take his own time, Sarfaraz can go for his shots immediately," Zol said, explaining the change. "He can hit from the first ball and he was in good nick. So, we backed Hooda to spend some quality time when the seamers were doing their job."
During England's chase, it was game on when England were at 41 for 3 but Ben Duckett's handling of India's spinners brought England back into the game. Zol said that Duckett's reverse sweeps were the difference.
"They played really well, as per the situation demanded," Zol said. "He came up with his reverse sweep, which our bowlers found it difficult to contain. I think it was a tough period for us."
England opted for the batting Powerplay in the 19th over, breaking from the trend of taking it after 35 overs. England scored 30 without losing a wicket and Zol defended his decision to bowl his two main spinners in tandem in that period, instead of the seamers.
"We were prepared for it when they took it (the Powerplay)," Zol said. "In every match till now, I have bowled my main spinners in the Powerplays."
Reflecting over the last two years, Zol said the batsmen had gained the most in the being exposed to different bowlers in different conditions, though the top order didn't live up to its billing in the UAE, where the conditions aren't very alien to those back home.
It will be an emotional parting of ways for this unit which over the last few months had begun to savour each other's success, a point repeatedly made by Zol and the coach B Arun. The support staff had been working on building an all-inclusive atmosphere to make sure no one feels isolated. Arun said one-on-one interactions are encouraged when a player feels low.
India now have two more games to play in the playoffs, starting with the fifth place playoff semi-finals against Sri Lanka on Monday. They did well to stretch England and the fight shown reflected the character of the side. It was a fact acknowledged by the captain himself.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo