India v Pakistan, ICC U-19 World Cup, quarter-final, Townsville August 20, 2012

Harmeet and Sandeep do it, drip by drip

The Indian team should be grateful to No. 8 Harmeet Singh and No. 11 Sandeep Sharma. Most of the India top-order batsmen should be watching videos of the duo's approach. They owe them big time

On the eve of the quarterfinal against Pakistan, India's coach Bharat Arun had said having left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh, who had been ill for the last two group games, available for selection again was "a big boost and advantage." He was talking about Harmeet the bowler of course. Arun could not have imagined that Harmeet the batsman would be mobbed by euphoric team-mates after completing a one-wicket victory, with No. 11 Sandeep Sharma for company, in a sensationally tense finish.

"When I hit it [the winning shot], I knew it was two runs," said Harmeet, still trembling with exhilaration half an hour after he had sent the spirited group of Indian fans at the Tony Ireland Stadium into raptures. "When I ran the first run, I couldn't breathe. I couldn't cry, I couldn't laugh. It was something in between. The emotion was tremendous."

One moment, Harmeet was sitting in the dugout with his pads on, watching the fluent Baba Aparajith steer India to within 17 runs of a spot in the semifinals. The next, he was walking past Aparajith, who had been caught at cover. India still had four wickets in hand, with the wicketkeeper Smit Patel batting, and Kamal Passi, who had blitzed 24 off five balls against Zimbabwe, to come.

"I didn't think I'd have to bat," Harmeet said later. As it transpired, not only did Harmeet have to bat, he also had to play the lead. Smit tried to cut but edged one that bounced a bit more, and fast bowler Azizullah had Passi lbw and Ravikant Singh bowled for ducks. India had lost 3 for 4 in ten balls.

The coterie of Indian fans that had out-waved, out-sung and out-shouted the smaller group of Pakistanis, ever since Sandeep had taken two wickets in the first over of the day, were winded as he walked out to join Harmeet. India needed 10 runs; Pakistan only one wicket. Nine overs remained.

"No. Just 137 runs, our batting is strong, I thought they will score easily," Sandeep said when asked if he'd imagined he'd be needed to bat. "When I went in there was lots of pressure. I was just thinking, I just have to play; Harmeet will score."

With all that had gone before, the manner in which 19 batsmen had been dismissed, it seemed a matter of time before either Sandeep or Harmeet would fall to a good ball, or while attempting a big shot. Or they might have a go and get lucky, and the 10 India needed would come off an edge or a slog. What came to pass was anything but.

"I backed myself and I knew Sandy [Sandeep] could play. The ones who had got out, they could also play," Harmeet said. "It was just about pressure, the balls they got out to were not that great. So it was just pressure that we got under."

Two balls after Sandeep came to the crease, Harmeet played the left-arm spinner Zafar Gohar on the leg side for a single. Nine to get. There were shouts from the dismissed Indian batsmen on the sidelines. Perhaps they were cheering the run, perhaps they were imploring Harmeet to farm strike. Sandeep, striding forward and defending, kept out the remaining four balls of the 42nd over,.

In the tensest of situations, Harmeet was astute enough to read the game, and know that Azizullah, who had taken two wickets in his previous over, had only one left - the 43rd. "I decided that I'll play that over," Harmeet said. "After that there were only spinners, and there wasn't much spin [in the pitch]. So that's what I did, I just played that over and nudged around."

Off the fourth ball of that Azizullah over, with only nine to get, Harmeet refused a single to long-off. "That fast bowler took two wickets in his last over. I didn't take a chance there and after that I knew Sandy could play all the spinners. I had confidence in Sandy. I knew he could stay there and not play a shot for maybe the whole day. I played with him in the Cooch Behar [Indian domestic Under-19 tournament]. He has got patience, that's why I backed him and took singles again after the fast bowler had finished."

Harmeet's faith was not misplaced. Despite every fielder coming in to the 30-yard circle to keep Sandeep on strike, he did not try and hit the ball over the top. He defended the whole of the 44th over from the other left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz.

"I was just concentrating on the ball," Sandeep said. "Harmeet was playing really well, he was telling me to 'just play with a straight bat, the ball is doing nothing, so just play with a straight bat.' I was just focussing on saving my wicket."

With so few runs to defend, and majority of the fielders saving the single, only a tremendously confident and mature spinner will slow down his pace and flight the ball to tempt the batsman into indiscretion. Gohar and Nawaz bowled defensively - quicker and flatter - and Harmeet, being a left-arm spinner, realised they were no threat if handled sensibly.

India were in no hurry whatsoever. Harmeet took two off the first ball of the 45th over - seven needed - and blocked the rest. The Indian fans, who had fallen silent, found voices again, most of them hoarse by now. Sandeep had defended 12 balls with a calmness that would have reassured thumping hearts in the Indian camp before driving Nawaz to long-off for a single. He would finish on 2 off 22 deliveries.

Drip by drip India crawled closer. With two runs needed, Harmeet decided the time was right and played his first airborne shot, chipping Nawaz over square leg to bring an end to the ordeal. The partnership was worth a match-winning 10; it had taken seven overs.

The release of emotion after the winning hit was palpable, from the fans and from the players and support staff rushing to greet their saviours. And despite the hugs, the high-fives and the back-slaps, the over-riding feeling among those who watched from the bench should be one of gratitude.

Sandeep and Harmeet had taken 3 for 24 and 1 for 20 to help dismiss Pakistan for 136. And yet their top-order batsmen, who have disappointed as a unit throughout the group stages, left the job undone once again.

Harmeet, however, said he had made it a point to try and enjoy himself. "It's great to be back like this," he said. "For us, it's been a bit of a struggle, but we're still there. That's what matters for us."

Most of the top-order batsmen should be watching videos of Harmeet and Sandeep's approach. They owe them big time.

George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Krishna on August 22, 2012, 20:34 GMT

    Wow last time these 2 teams had a clash in Asia cup final it was a tie and now this.....How closer can these 2 side get.Having a U-19 series between India and Pak is not at all a bad idea.

  • Rafat on August 22, 2012, 13:15 GMT

    No doubt that Pakistan has a bright future in the fast bowling department. But their batting remains the main concern. They (even the national side's batsmen) don't have the knowledge of how bat in different situations. Batting is not only about scoring runs, even the tail-enders can do it. It is also about reading the situation and approaching the game according to that.

  • Dummy4 on August 22, 2012, 2:17 GMT

    It was very disappointing win for top order batsmen.

  • ajith on August 21, 2012, 11:57 GMT

    Blue android seems to be affected by the Sehwag effect more that the players. Talk about twisting things to suit ones needs. lol.

  • Naresh on August 21, 2012, 11:10 GMT

    I hope the Indian top-order learn from how the tailenders did. Why do we always leave victory to be gained by tail-enders? Please batsman if you are in the team as batsman - DO YOUR JOB - just like how the bowlers did their bit. That is why I call this a LUCKY win. The next one or two games will not allow the team to get thru to lift the cup with this sort of situation. Oz are high flying and favorites to lift the cup. NZ are no pushovers. Please wake-up and bring the trophy home.

  • Dummy4 on August 21, 2012, 6:40 GMT

    while i was reading this article, i felt i am watching the match. Indian boys have done a great job, hope they will continue till lifting the world cup.

  • Sanjiv on August 21, 2012, 0:27 GMT

    A well written article. I missed the game but the narrative makes gripping reading. Clearly good cricket from both sides - either one could have won.

  • Vinod on August 20, 2012, 22:41 GMT

    Congrats to india, shabash pakistan, this match will be added on to the rich rivalry Pakistan and india have. No disgrace to pakistan for loosing, they gave it their all. for the indian media and fans, please donot go about crowing about the victory and push it down other's throats, this is just a game in which the true character of teenagers was brought out, augurs well for the future of indo-pak's to more of such matches....GO INDIA...!!!!

  • Dummy4 on August 20, 2012, 21:57 GMT

    Not to take away anythin from the Indian team, but congrats for barely scraping through.To the guys saying they are just under 19's that argument is not valid because somehow the australian and south african under 19's seem to do very well. infact pakistan did very well so far and had they got 150, indian team would have been knocked out (remember this indian team has only barely escaped so far with not one convincing performance).

    in the bigger scheme of things of course this doesnt matter since none of this 11 is likely going further than this but its a sad story that these are the only 11 we can find in a country of 1 billion people. the coach with all his 4 international wickets worth of experience back in the 80's obviously needs to be replaced along with the 11 who are playing.

  • Cricinfouser on August 20, 2012, 18:39 GMT

    @blue_android ..these are teens.. both Pakistanis and Indians and they played their heart out for their country. We know you have an axe to grind against sehwag but can you spare these kids for now. They are trying hard and branding someone flat track this and fast track that is unfair. Give yourself a break from all this negativity..

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