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Bowled out for 41, Japan look to 'tick off the little wins'

There was no despondency in the camp after the defeat to India, only the determination to keep improving

Cake-smeared birthday boys Kento Ota-Dobell and Dhruv Jurel  •  ICC via Getty

Cake-smeared birthday boys Kento Ota-Dobell and Dhruv Jurel  •  ICC via Getty

The first fans to make it to Bloemfontein's Mangaung Oval ahead of Japan's game against India arrived an hour before the toss. Dressed in pink, they were friends and family of the Japanese players, and were waving a banner that read "Play Without Fear". The sun was out and so were their smiles.
By the time the game ended, with Japan suffering a ten-wicket mauling under cloudy skies, the sun was out again. Surprisingly, perhaps, the smiles were still there too.
That Japan suffered such a heavy defeat was inconsequential to the fans and the team itself. Speaking after the game, Japan coach Dhugal Bedingfield said his team always knew facing India would be a challenge. They weren't ever looking to beat India, he said. They were simply looking to be better versions of themselves.
"For us, it's just about gradual improvement," Bedingfield said. "We hope to be a better team than we were yesterday. If we can do that every day over the course of the World Cup, we'll be happy.
"We are a team that's developing. Right now, we're at the beginning of our journey. Definitely not a finished product."
When Japan came out to bat after losing the toss, it seemed they had a plan. Against the new-ball bowlers, it looked like their openers restrained their strokeplay, looking to offer shots only to deliveries that were aimed at the stumps. It worked for 26 balls, even though Japan scored only five runs in that period, but when Kartik Tyagi unleashed his yorker, they had few answers. They didn't have a reply to Ravi Bishnoi's wrong'uns either. Pretty soon, they were all out for 41, the joint-second-lowest total in the U-19 World Cup's history, but Bedingfield said he saw enough in that batting performance to not feel disappointed.
"Before the game, we spoke about working on our basics like energy and communication," he said. "With the bat, we've been practicing the basics for the past 6-9 months. I thought for the first few overs, we stayed in there. But against a team like India, things can quickly change like it did today.
"For us, we are ticking off little wins day by day. With our bowlers, it's basic lines and lengths, our fielding plans, our effort in the field. I feel we're improving and a day like today probably didn't show that by the scoreboard but we are definitely heading in the right direction."
Bedingfield, however, rang a warning bell for the remaining teams in the competition, whom Japan may face in the plate league next week. "We are not setting out to be cautious," Bedingfield said. "We certainly want to play positive cricket and by the end of the tournament, we are hoping to upset one or two teams."
After the game, both sets of players mingled near the boundary line. Japan captain Marcus Thurgate rushed to attend the post-match press conference, but said he would love to get some tips from the Indians at the team hotel.
To bring the day to a close, India brought out a cake to celebrate not only the birthday of their wicketkeeper Dhruv Jurel but also Japan's Kento Dobell. The Japan team then asked the Indian side for a group photo. They obliged, and by the time the teams left the ground in their respective buses, they both seemed like winners.

Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo