India had won everything on their way to the Under-19 World Cup 2020 final. When their batting couldn't quite cut it, their bowlers won them games. When the bowlers failed, the batsmen didn't. In the final, though, bar one batsman and one bowler, everyone had an off day, and that was a big reason for their defeat.
Another middle-order failure
Coming into the tournament, India played a bilateral series against South Africa and a quadrangular against three other World Cup sides, all in South Africa. Then, India's middle-order looked formidable, with Tilak Varma, Siddhesh Veer and Dhruv Jurel coming good time and again to help them win both those series. But, at the World Cup, a combination of poor weather and a terrific opening pair in Yashasvi Jaiswal and Divyaansh Saxena left the middle-order quite undercooked. The only time they were needed in the group stage was the game against Sri Lanka, where they chipped in with quick runs. But against Japan, the target was just 42, and the win over New Zealand came by ten wickets.
But on the two occasions in the knockouts where the middle-order was needed - Pakistan were beaten by ten wickets in the semi-final - they failed. Against Australia in the quarter-final and against Bangladesh in the final, they failed to capitalise on good starts by the openers. Nos. 4 to 7 made only 47 against Australia, they made only 32 against Bangladesh. Did the success of the openers end up being a problem?
"The conditions were difficult. It wasn't an easy wicket against Australia or Bangladesh," Mhambrey said after the final. "So you've got to give credit to their bowlers as well. That's why the middle-order struggled in both the games.
"But, honestly, it's the wicket. Got to be fair to the middle-order. In a tournament, that can happen when the openers are doing so well. In the South Africa bilaterals, the middle-order did deliver. But no excuses, you need to be prepared for any situation and they weren't up to it."
Garg admitted that the lack of time in the middle could have played a part. "[Being bowled out with 18 balls in hand] is also a factor, but the way we started, our middle-order should have finished it off," he said. "The way Jaiswal and Saxena started according to the wicket, it was good. And then Tilak [Varma]. But then we failed to capitalise, our middle-order couldn't consolidate despite a good base."
Too many extras, 30 of them
Bangladesh earned 19.41% of their runs in the final via extras. Even if you take four leg-byes out of the equation, India conceded eight byes, two no-balls and 19 wides in the final while defending 178 (revised to 170 courtesy the DLS). Prior to the final, the number was much lower: 19 v Sri Lanka, 18 v New Zealand, 13 v Australia and 12 v Pakistan. In the final, it was a whopping 33.
According to Garg, it was just a ploy gone wrong. "We could have done better, but the ball went wide due to our plans. The ball was swinging a lot. In terms of planning, we wanted to exploit certain areas. In that sense, we did concede a few extras but we still bowled well. Can't blame the bowlers - felt they bowled well today."
Why hold Ravi Bishnoi back?
Bangladesh's openers had made 50 in 8.5 overs when Ravi Bishnoi earned India the breakthrough in his first over. Across his next six overs, he claimed three more, rocking Bangladesh back, leaving them at a precarious 65 for 4, still nearly two-thirds away from the target.
But he was taken off after seven overs - the 22nd of the chase - first spell ended in the 22rd over, and came back after 28 overs. In those six overs, Bangladesh scored at 5.17 runs per over, adding 31 while punishing the fast bowlers and off-colour left-arm spinner Atharva Ankolekar.
Defending a small total, did it make any sense to relieve Bangladesh of the Bishnoi pressure when he was the only bowler who looked like taking a wicket with nearly every ball?
Garg had his reasons for saving Bishnoi's overs. "Both batsmen were playing him easily so we took him off for a break as the pitch got better," he said. "But he started well, he got the wickets we initially needed to get us back into the game. I thought, at the end, we can use him since he had only three overs left for the second spell."
Bishnoi, who ended the tournament as its highest wicket-taker with 17 strikes, came back later, but his last three overs were comfortably played out by the Bangladesh batsmen, who were by then looking to defend, keeping one eye on the DLS sheet, which they were well ahead of at that stage.
Did Garg miss a trick? Mhambrey didn't think so, and instead praised Garg for stepping up as a leader even though his batting form wasn't remarkable.
"Brilliant captaincy, (he's) done a fabulous job," Mhambrey said of Garg. "As a batsman, when you're not getting a lot of batting time, you want to lead more. Having said that, the way he managed the resources, the team, on and off the field, he's been brilliant. A lot of credit for the team's success goes to him."