Australia Under-19s get ready for final
The venue for Australia's last full net session ahead of the final of the Under-19 World Cup was only a five-minute drive from Tony Ireland Stadium, but its setting was far removed from the goldfish bowl they'll be in on Sunday. The Brothers Cricket Club, nestled in the quiet suburb of Thuringowa, has a huge, lush field bordered by a white picket fence. Stand in its middle and, apart from the birds, the only sounds are from groups of excited Under-19 cricketers, having a net on the centre wickets and practicing their fielding in preparation for the biggest match of their lives.
Australia played their semi-final against South Africa on August 21, which means they had four days until the title clash. They didn't even know who their opponent was until last evening. India, it turned out.
Their players had a couple of days off after the semifinal to take their minds off the high-pressure match coming up. William Bosisto, the captain, played some golf, as did Travis Head, the allrounder who bowls offspin.
"After the game we did our normal recovery, came to the pool," Bosisto said. "I had a hit of golf yesterday, so that was quite relaxing, I love my golf. That's a great way to take your mind off cricket, relax and enjoy life kind of thing. Today we had a net session - that was our big, main session before Sunday. Tomorrow we'll have an optional session at Tony Ireland, just a short little hit."
Head, who said he was a "pretty relaxed person," went down to Tony Ireland on Thursday to see bits of the India-New Zealand semi-final too. "I just couldn't watch, got back to the hotel and the air conditioning, it was a bit hot," he said. "Just got a bit itchy watching ... just wanted to get out there. I think we're pretty relaxed and the team's not too nervous. It's good to know we're playing India now, we can plan for that and look forward to Sunday."
Gurinder Sandhu, the fast bowler, said there hadn't been much talk about the final over the last two days, with most of the team unwinding about Townsville.
Their coach Stuart Law said the down time was important in such a high-profile tournament. "You can only do so much practice," he said. "Players in this day and age are probably getting it wrong. They think you can improve at practice, you don't. You improve in a game; you maintain a practice. You shouldn't be batting for four hours each day in the nets. It's not going to do you much good at all.
"We had a similar sort of break between our quarter and our semi, so we did basically the same thing as we had done then - two days off, the boys have got family up here, so spent a bit of time with them. They go fishing, they play golf, just keep them relaxed, keep them occupied, among doing gym sessions and whatever. They knew they had to come back today to start the hard work again."
The practice was extensive and the spirits high. Among other things, the national talent manager Greg Chappell had a long chat with Bosisto after a net, watched the offspinner Ashton Turner bowl closely and gave Kurtis Patterson some catching practice. Sandhu was among the most vocal and enthusiastic while catching skiers from Craig McDermott.
"Don't really have any words to explain it to be honest, the boys are pretty pumped, especially with India," Sandhu said, when asked about the excitement ahead of the final. "Everyone's positive, 5-0 at the moment, haven't lost a game, the momentum is on our side I guess. Just get out there."
The tournament could not have had a more high-profile final. Australia against India is a promoter's dream, drawing in the local support for both teams, and the television audiences from cricket's biggest market. The competitors have pedigree too. Australia are undefeated in this World Cup; while India have had the most success among Under-19 sides over the last 12 months, winning two quadrangular tournaments and sharing the Asia Cup. Both those quadrangulars involved Australia and they recognise that having to face India in the finale is a fitting test of which is the best side.
"Coming into the World Cup we were expecting India to be a really tough opponent and we thought that there was a fair chance they'd probably end up in the final, so look it's no surprise to see that they've done a great job," Bosisto said. "They have been successful over the last 12 months. Hopefully we can produce the right game of cricket on Sunday."
Head said: "We've got to play the best to win this sort of championship and to play against the best is what we want to do in a final. We're always expecting to play a really good, strong team in the final if we made it. Obviously we've won all our games and we're coming in confident."
These Australian Under-19 players have not been together as long as India's have, nor have they played in as many finals, but Law said the role their "grit and determination" will play on Sunday should not be underestimated.
Australia's practice on Saturday will also be in the suburb of Thuringowa, but it won't be at an obscure little cricket club. They'll be at Tony Ireland Stadium, on the eve of the biggest match of their cricket careers.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo