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August 22, 2012
India have made it to the semi-final of the Under-19 World Cup in Townsville despite their batting unit performing well below potential. Their bowlers have brought them this far, defending targets in two group games and dismissing Pakistan for 136 in the quarter-final. They've also done the batsmen's job twice: Kamal Passi making 24 off five balls to reach a competitive total against Zimbabwe, and Harmeet Singh and Sandeep Sharma adding a nerve-shredding 10 for the last wicket to eliminate Pakistan.
Five of India's top seven batsmen have made half-centuries in the tournament but no one averages over 40. Vijay Zol, who has 150 runs in four innings, is the best with 37.50. Three of the batsmen who went past 50 did not make it past 60. The highest score is Unmukt Chand's 78 against Zimbabwe. What India need against a New Zealand side that will not willingly yield an inch is for batsmen to perform collectively and for them to not stop soon after getting a half-century.
"Each one has clicked at different times, but we have not clicked together, now it's just a question of mental preparation," India's coach Bharat Arun said. "Good thing is, each and every one of them is confident, they've got some knocks at different points. It's time for them to come together on the big occasion."
Batsmen from most teams have struggled in Townsville, especially at the Tony Ireland Stadium, and especially against the new ball. India were 34 for 3 against West Indies, 139 for 0 against Zimbabwe, 98 for 5 against Papua New Guinea and 8 for 3 against Pakistan.
"They have seen it for themselves," Arun said when asked if the top-order batsmen had learned from Harmeet and Sandeep's straight-bat and patient approach against Pakistan. "We have learnt from our mistakes, seen our videos. Hopefully we'll offset all those things that we've done.
"It is about understanding the conditions, no matter how many times you played there, there's always something in it for the bowlers. I guess each and every one [of the batsmen] understands that you cannot dominate from the word go. You need to settle down and then you will be able to do something on this wicket. The batsmen have realised that; hopefully they [will] come good."
Chand, being an opening batsman, along with Prashant Chopra, has had the hardest job of getting past the new ball, which he's managed to do twice. Against West Indies, Chand batted until the 20th over to score 22, and against Zimbabwe he made a half-century. He spoke of the importance of battling through the first 15-20 overs, saying even a run-rate as low as two or three was no problem if the wickets had been protected.
"It [batting] does get easier once the ball stops doing its bit [after 15-20 overs]," Chand said. "You need to apply yourself, which we have been lacking in ... if [those who have been playing well] can convert the starts into bigger ones and finish the game off, that can be really good for the team."
Like New Zealand, India also entered the final four after a tense victory, against Pakistan. With emotions running high over the last 36 hours, it was important for the team to soak in that achievement and then move past it. Chand said the team had successfully done so.
"Until yesterday [Tuesday] we were talking about the previous victory, there were calls from back home, so all that was there," Chand said. "From today, from the practice session, we are focussed on tomorrow's match. We want to leave Pakistan game as a memory."
India will hope their batsmen stop adding to their bowlers' burden, so they'll be able to move past New Zealand, leave the semi-final as a memory, and set up a title clash against Australia on Sunday.
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