Been there, done that, won that
After 44 matches packed into 15 days across seven venues in three cities in Malaysia, there's no doubt that the best team was crowned Under-19 World Champions. India were seeded second coming into the tournament and, although they did not face top-seeded Pakistan, no one can dispute their claim to the trophy.
How did India consistently set challenging totals and chase down targets with relative ease compared to the rest of the teams? To say that their batsmen peaked at the right time is only half the answer ; the other half lies in experience, a priceless commodity at this level of sport.
Several of their players have played first-class cricket, giving them the experience of playing against older players and against opposition tougher than most of the other Under-19 teams. The two best batsmen - Virat Kohli and Tanmay Srivastava - not only play for their state teams but also represent their zones.
The crucial factor giving India the edge over the rest of the opposition, however, is in international exposure. Since the 2006 World Cup, India have toured Pakistan, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. The tours have helped players understand different playing styles and conditions and, if you speak to them, they cannot emphasise enough the importance of that experience.
It's probably fair to say no other country has invested as much - at least in financial terms - at the Under-19 level. Australia's coach Brian McFayden said their youth development was part of their state programs and they didn't feel "the need to take the cream out and spend six months traveling the world". Ray Jennings, South Africa's coach, said his team had been put together only in December 2007 and India's tour to South Africa provided the only competitive matches they had to prepare for the World Cup.
The proof of this preparation was seen in Malaysia, where India were not only unbeaten throughout the tournament but also largely untested. It was to their credit that whenever the situation demanded, different players turned in match-winning performances. Their batsmen performed consistently in all the games but failed in the final. However, their confidence was so high that their captain, Kohli, said that if India had struggled South Africa's batsmen would find it harder.
|Until the semi-final, India hadn't lost more than five wickets in any of their games; until the final they weren't bowled out|
There was one external factor that went in India's favour: they played all their matches at the Kinrara Oval. However, to give undue importance to that factor would be a discredit to the team for they had several difficulties to overcome.
Though India's bowlers won them the final, it was their batting that distinguished them from other teams in the tournament. Until the semi-final, India hadn't lost more than five wickets in any of their games; until the final they weren't bowled out.
To put their effort in perspective: fellow semi-finalists Pakistan did not make 200 even once; Australia were dismissed for 172 and 129 against the only major teams they played; England did not go past 150 until the play-off stages; and Sri Lanka collapsed for 134 in the quarter-final against New Zealand.
Only South Africa's batsmen showed gradual improvement with 242 and 260 in the knock-out stages but they collapsed in the final, mustering a weak 103 for 8. They had been dismissed by India for 149 in the group stage as well.
While bowling and batting are equally important to a team's success, the majority of the players feel that it's easier for bowlers to get used to the conditions and sort of opposition far quicker than it is for batsmen to cope to unfamiliar circumstances: for instance quality spinners on slow wickets in Malaysia.
While most teams entered the tournament to gain experience against tough opponents in unfamiliar conditions, with a view of developing their young talent, India started with oodles of experience. It was always going to be tough for the rest to challenge them over two weeks of hectic cricket.
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo