India's pace, SL spin key factors in semi-final
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Start time 0900 local (0300 GMT)
India-Sri Lanka contests, at all levels, have often been about their batsmen and one team outscoring the other in run fests. This time however, the clash between the India Under-19s and the Sri Lanka Under-19s could come down to their respective bowling attacks and India's pace or Sri Lanka's spin could well end up determining the outcome of the 2016 Under-19 World Cup's first semi-final.
The ability of India quick bowler Avesh Khan to bring his side an early breakthrough could make or break this game. If the Sri Lankan opening batsmen can withstand Avesh's barrage of short balls or make their way past his full deliveries, the contest will be quite open. The game will also be about how the Indian batsmen take on Sri Lanka's own barrage of spinners.
Sri Lanka captain Charith Asalanka has said that India can expect to face a lot of spin bowling, and Sri Lanka will stick to spin which is their strength. India can handle spin bowling well but it will be interesting to see how they smother the likes of legspinner Wanidu Hasaranga and the left-arm spinner Damith Silva.
The spotlight will also be on the captains, Asalanka and Ishan Kishan, particularly the latter who hasn't made as many runs as he would have liked. Kishan, however, can rely on Sarfaraz Khan or Rishabh Pant to give his team the batting platform. India's familiarity with the tracks in Mirpur - they played all four league games here, while Sri Lanka have played two - will also work in their favour.
Sri Lanka will be India's second Full Member opposition in the tournament so far and Asalanka has already said his team have an edge having beaten an opposition England in the quarter-final.
India: WWWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: WLWWL
India have shown the ability to score quickly. They have so far put up scores at run rates of 5.36, 5.16, 9.63 and 6.98 in their four matches respectively. Even if they lose wickets early, India haven't held back their stroke-play. Of the players who have batted for them, six have a strike rate of over 100, while four have batted at a strike rate of more than 90.
Sri Lanka's bowling depth has shown the potential to keep them in contests for long. After a bit of medium-pace from Asitha Fernando, Asalanka brings out his full catalogue of spinners - offspin, legspin and slow left-arm orthodox. For most of the innings, whether in the Powerplays or in the death overs, they have had spinners in operation and, so far, it has been effective.
While Rishabh Pant has been Man of the Match in India's last two games, Sarfaraz Khan has been the most prolific batsman for the side in the tournament so far. He walked in during two tight situations against New Zealand and Ireland, and scored 74 each time. He is the team's second-highest scorer so far with 245 runs, only seven behind Pant's tally of 252.
Charith Asalanka has led from the front with his runs in the middle-order and tight off-breaks. He has, however, fallen twice in the seventies, a statistic he would like to correct against India. Ahead of the tournament, he had said he held the responsibility of bringing the trophy back home and is two wins away from realizing that dream.
Avesh Khan has been India's best bowler on show. He has mostly clocked over 130 kph and has found movement whenever he has pitched it up to the batsmen. He also bowled a few short deliveries at the batsmen's bodies, to get them to play awkward pulls. Having already taken nine wickets, India will now hope that he can remove the Sri Lankan top order cheaply.
The leg-spinner Wanidu Hasaranga has taken a wicket every 30 balls for Sri Lanka, and is their joint highest-wicket taker with seven wickets at a bowling average of 15.71. He has bowled with freedom, either giving the ball some air or bowling it slightly fuller and flatter. He took 3 for 34 against England in the quarter-final, and Sri Lanka will hope that he can get the legbreaks to grip on the Mirpur pitch.
Ishan Kishan has made only 62 runs in four innings, including a half-century. Three low scores don't necessarily suggest a batsman out of form but the India captain has given it away at times and would like to remedy that in the semi-final.
Allrounder Shammu Ashan made 74 in Sri Lanka's first game against Canada Under-19s but since made 3, 1 and 5 not out. In October last year, he made a century and an unbeaten 75 against Pakistan Under-19s and much is expected from him. His offspin has rarely been used, but he took 1 for 20 in six overs against England in the quarter-final.
Pitch and conditions
The Mirpur pitches during this tournament have often played slow but there has been bounce. The tracks have not worn out too quickly, so chasing can still be a choice for the captain who wins the toss. In the six matches of the World Cup held at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, so far, three teams have won batting first.
"It doesn't matter what's the name or the man. We just play the ball. It is like playing another big game for us. We will play our cricket."
Sri Lanka Under-19s captain Charith Asalanka, when asked how it would be to play against India Under-19s, a few of whom already have IPL contracts.
"Pressure is there for everyone because this is not an easy level for cricketers. It is the Under-19 World Cup."
India Under-19s captain Ishan Kishan, when asked if being 3-time champions is another reason to feel pressure.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84