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Ebullient West Indies soak up big-match pressure

Shamar Springer celebrates a wicket with his signature dance moves Getty Images

It was barely 7am in the Caribbean islands when West Indies Under-19s allrounder Shamar Springer started shaking a leg. The carnival season has just begun in the Caribbean countries and Springer, in another continent altogether, broke into a move he calls the "chest-roll" in front of over 10,000 Bangladesh fans who didn't want to witness any of that after seeing their Under-19s side beaten in the World Cup semi-final. Springer had just creamed a cover drive to hit the winning runs, he sprinted towards the team dug-out and halfway through he put on show some uninhibited moves.

His batting partner Ryan John chased him, his team-mates sprung towards him and Springer's jive continued in the deafening silence of the heartbroken fans at the Shere Bangla Stadium in Mirpur. Is it a surprise that Springer is from Combermere School in Barbados, the same school as singer Rihanna?

"[There was] a lot of pressure but I overcame it today," Springer said right after the match. "I listen to a motivational speech before each game and tell myself I am a champion. I'm quite adaptable."

Springer was a different character altogether when the match was on. His bowling spell played a vital role in suffocating the flow of runs in the early overs. And when his chance to bat came, the naturally-aggressive player curbed his instincts to score 62 unbeaten runs off 88 balls with a strike rate of 70.45. Less than two weeks ago, he had scored a 74-ball century at a strike rate of nearly 136 against Fiji Under-19s. No wonder he's called a "Ball-beater" back home.

"When I first went to bat, I just had to get familiar with the conditions, it was spinning a bit and it's not very normal to bat so many dot balls," Springer said. "But I adjusted today and I just was continuing to give him [Shimron Hetmyer] strike. Then he got out and I just took everything in control.

"In both knocks, I was nervous at the beginning and I was in a kind of sticky situation. I backed myself in both situations and just came on top."

West Indies team manager Dwain Gill said it was uncharacteristic of Springer to play that kind of a knock. Springer was seen as a No. 7 or 8 batsman when he started training with the other probables in the camps last year to prepare for the World Cup. Once his batting skills were recognised, he kept going up the order and now comes out at No. 5. "He's a very attacking player," Gill said. "Today he showed that he can actually put down his head and construct an innings under pressure. So it says a lot for him."

Being a visiting team at the Shere Bangla Stadium has proven to be tricky for several senior teams recently. Pakistan, India and South Africa - all have lost ODIs, and then series, here in the last year. The teenagers in the West Indies side may not have seen such a large crowd cheer against them, especially in a crunch match. It, however, made captain Hetmyer feel "comfortable".

"It wasn't really playing on my mind because all the games I've played before I played in front of big crowds," Hetmyer said. "So it's not really too much of an adjustment for me. To be honest, it made me comfortable because the noise and the sound it kind of took me back home. When I play home we have a lot of people come and support me and my team as well."

If not with the size of the crowd, the West Indies players are certainly comfortable with the conditions in Bangladesh by now. They arrived in early January for a bilateral series with the hosts and were blanked 3-0. In three attempts, their team scores read 114, 128 and 219. Hetmyer said getting familiar with the conditions and tracks helped them get in the groove.

"It's a very big transformation but I would put it down to the guys not being accustomed [earlier] to the conditions in Bangladesh," Hetmyer said. "Coming from the West Indies, where most of the balls don't spin that much, and coming here to Bangladesh where the ball spins, the guys just needed a little time to adjust to the pitches and to the weather, all in one. They (Bangladesh) thought that we wouldn't have changed from those first three games and I think we've got better and better.

"Here the ball spins and we just wanted to take that out of the mind and just play the ball how we see it, and if it spins, it spins. I guess that worked for us."

Just like the team's fortunes, Hetmyer's scores had been disappointing in the three Youth ODIs and in the league matches of the World Cup, before he shone with two consecutive fifties in the knockout matches. Against Pakistan, he scored a 42-ball 52 in chase of 228, and on Thursday, he scored 60 off 59.

"It was a bit challenging, yes, for not getting any runs in the preliminary games to the quarter-final and semi-final," Hetmyer admitted. "I just backed myself and go back to what I do well, like sweeping and some of the shots that I play well in the Caribbean, and come back to them and work on them even harder in practice."

Hetmyer also said hitting offspinner Saeed Sarkar for 15 runs in the 18th over gave him and the players in the dressing room confidence. West Indies overcame several pressure situations, losing seven wickets on the way, and held their nerve to confirm a place in their second Under-19 World Cup final. In their last appearance in 2004, also held in Bangladesh, they lost to Pakistan.

Now West Indies will face an unbeaten India Under-19s side in the final. That is still three days away and for now, the West Indies players would want to immerse themselves in the victory they earned today.

"Being in the second West Indies team to get into the final and possibly, if we play as well as we did today, we'll win the final as well," Hetmyer said. "So it's a very very good feeling for us and for the people back home."

If they do win on February 14, these teenagers might party all night long in their hotel rooms, just like the carnivals all year round in the Caribbean.