India v South Africa, Under-19 World Cup 2008 final March 1, 2008

Leading the way

It is no coincidence that the two teams in the finals - India and South Africa - have been led by captains who have turned in the strongest on-field performances

Notwithstanding the result, Wayne Parnell and Virat Kohli have have credited themselves marvellously on a global stage © Getty Images

The captains at the Under-19 World Cup are perhaps not experienced enough to display tactical brilliance on the field consistently, but leading through performances is the surest way of securing loyalty and respect from fellow teenage peers. It is no coincidence that the two teams in the finals - India and South Africa - have been led by captains who have turned in the strongest on-field performances.

India's captain Virat Kohli has scored 216 runs from five innings at No. 4, including the innings of the tournament - a brutal 100 off 74 balls against West Indies. He's also proved to be a useful partnership breaker - he dismissed two set England batsmen in the quarter-final after the new-ball bowlers had failed to take quick wickets. Parnell is perhaps the tournament's best allrounder: he's made 105 runs at No. 7 at a strike-rate of 90 and his swing bowling with the new ball has brought 16 wickets at 8.12 apiece, with an economy-rate of three runs per over.

Their performances, however, go beyond numbers for they've contributed at crucial moments and overcome fitness issues during the course of the tournament. Virat struck his century against West Indies when India needed someone to accelerate after a slow but steady start. He picked up a leg injury along the way but was fit in time for the knockout match against England. Parnell had flu ahead of South Africa's quarter-final against Bangladesh but still demolished the opposition with 6 for 8 after scoring 57. He wasn't 100% fit against Pakistan either but struck twice in his second over while defending a target under lights.

India and South Africa have got to know each other well for they played a series in South Africa before the World Cup and were pooled in the same group in Malaysia. Virat and Parnell have battled frequently and they have mutual respect for each other.

"Obviously the captain [Virat] is a big player," Parnell said on the eve of the final. "If we can knock him out early it'll be a big boost. The whole [Indian] team really looks to him for security but obviously their top six batsmen have batted well through out the whole tournament."

"Wayne's a good bowler and we can't take him lightly," Virat said about his South African counterpart. "We have to play cautiously in the beginning because, if we bat under lights, you never know how the ball will swing. Wayne swings the ball well in his first four or five overs. That's how he's got his breakthroughs in the earlier matches so we'll try and play him out."

Virat's game is based on aggression. He's a powerful batsman and his whippy drives through cover scorch the outfield. His role is crucial for he can provide the acceleration after Taruwar Kohli and Tanmay Srivastava build a platform.

"I like to dominate," Virat said. "That's my biggest strength. If the opposition is bowling well, I try to dominate to try and turn the tables." However, he said the experience gained by playing the Ranji Trophy has also made him patient. He's learnt to bide his time if a bowler's bowling well and backs himself to play his shots later.

Parnell's role in the South African team is equally vital, if not more. He's their most attacking fast bowler and they've depended on him to provide early breakthroughs. The support bowlers, who come on after the shine wears off, can sustain the pressure if it's created early on but are unlikely to run through a side on their own. They look to Parnell and his new-ball partner Matthew Arnold to give them the initiative.

The pressure of the final and the way they handle victory or defeat will be the greatest cricketing challenge both these captains have faced in their short careers. Whatever the result, they have credited themselves marvellously on a global stage.

George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo