Right on the ball
In September 2007, India's bowlers played a vital role in the batsmen-dominated Twenty20 format and won the inaugural World Championship in South Africa. In Malaysia, a younger set of bowlers ensured that the Under-19 World Cup, which had threatened to slip away after a batting failure in the final, was the centre of attraction in the dressing room during the post-match celebrations. India were undoubtedly a cut above their opposition in Malaysia and they held their nerve in the final to emerge champions.
India's batsmen did not have a bad day at the Under-19 World Cup, setting large targets and chasing small totals with minimal fuss, until the final. Their bowlers had performed efficiently throughout the tournament but their efforts were over-shadowed by a top-order that consistently delivered match-winning innings. However, with the trophy at stake, the batsmen failed against South Africa's medium-pacers and left the bowlers only 159 to defend.
The challenges facing the bowlers were several. Apart from a low target, the rain interruption gave South Africa a total that was further reduced to 116 off 25 overs. A wet outfield resulted in a slippery ball which was hard to control for the medium-pacers and difficult to grip for the spinners. And if the difficulties posed by factors outside their control weren't enough, the Indians had a shocker in the field: Virat Kohli and Pradeep Sangwan dropped simple catches and Shreevats Goswami missed three stumpings. To overcome these hurdles and clinch the World Cup by 12 runs was a tremendous effort.
To their credit, the bowlers exuded confidence from the start. Body language is an over-rated term at times but when Siddarth Kaul sprinted to the middle once the umpires had taken the field for the second innings, it indicated that India were pumped up and ready to defend the small total.
India's unlikely hero in the final was Ajitesh Argal, who wasn't part of India's U-19 plans until they returned from a tour of South Africa in December-January. It was felt that the pace-attack needed strengthening after that series and Argal and Kaul were drafted in.
Both bowlers did nothing spectacular with the ball. Argal bowled a tight line and length and troubled the batsmen with inswing that comes naturally to him. Kaul kept it full and bowled a straight line that was difficult to hit, making him especially hard to get after in the final overs. He also has a short ball which he bowls with a cross seam which is useful on slower pitches.
The early boost, though, was provided by Argal. India bowled 8.4 overs before the rain delay and during that period he bowled four overs and had taken 3 for 2. Argal's bowling isn't particularly quick nor does he move the ball exaggeratedly, his effectiveness today was purely because he stuck to bowling in the clichéd 'right areas'.
India depend a lot on their spinners for, apart from the three front-line seamers, they have no other medium-pace options. Ravindra Jadeja coped with the wet ball superbly, bowling quick and fast with the sole view of restricting the batsman. Iqbal Abdulla, who tends to give the ball more flight, was equally exceptional and could have had two wickets in his first over if not for dropped chances. The missed opportunities, however, appeared to spur them on. Jadeja's celebration when he had Jonathan Vandiar caught was a sight: he sprinted all the way down the pitch towards short third man. Jadeja and Abdulla's economy-rate of five are among their most expensive in the tournament but it was well below what South Africa needed and the lack of boundary balls maintained a steady gap between runs required and balls left.
Before the final, India's performances of note - barring Sangwan's five-for - were all from the batsmen. The bowlers waited until the last opportunity and ensured that the magnificent work put in over two weeks in Kuala Lumpur was not undone because of three hours of poor batting.
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo