ESPNcricinfo – Big Picture
You don’t need a New Zealand visa if you’re an Australian. There are also separate immigration queues at the airports for Australian passport holders. Both countries have a union jack on their flags.
You don’t need a local sim card, because Australian telecom providers offer flexible pay-per-use deals owing to proximity. The hiking trails, sporting culture and the weather patterns mean Australia are at a home away from home.
Yet, when they take on India in the Under-19 World Cup final in Mount Manganui, they will feel like an away team playing in Mohali. Tauranga’s Punjabi community of 4000 people, the biggest in New Zealand, will have their dhols and drums ready to add colour to a festive Saturday afternoon. The ground can hold 8000 people, and the organisers are hoping to have the venue more than half-full.
Outside Australia’s travelling group of parents, there is unlikely to be too much fan support for the 11 players, who will look to challenge untested India in their bid for their first Under-19 World Cup since Mitchell Marsh led them to the title in 2010. Prior to that, they had won in 1988 and 2002. India, too, are three-time winners, and last won in 2012 under Unmukt Chand. Two years ago in Bangladesh, they lost to West Indies in the final after dominating the group stages.
The similarities between the two, however, go beyond just the number of titles won. Both have a star-studded support cast: Chris Rogers and Ryan Harris for Australia; Rahul Dravid for India. Both captains – Jason Sangha and Prithvi Shaw – have set age-related first-class records. It is when you dig into team specifics that the similarities become hard to find.
India’s openers are in form; Australia are sweating over the poor form of one of their gun openers – Max Bryant. India have two allrounders in Anukul Roy and Kamlesh Nagarkoti, as opposed to Australia, who just have Will Sutherland. Barring Ishan Porel, India haven’t had too many injury concerns, while Australia have been forced to mix and match. Jason Ralston was ruled out, and now Aaron Hardie, his replacement, has also joined him on the sidelines with a groin injury. In their absence, Zak Evans and Ryan Hadley will form their new-ball attack.
This is a clash between a highly skilled side that has prepared in every condition possible, against a side that has the best sporting system and has produced match-winners by truckloads. That Australia are here is because Lloyd Pope gatecrashed an England party that was ready to take off. They would have to play out of their skins to repeat that against India on Saturday.
In the spotlight
Rahul Dravid generally doesn’t talk up individuals, at least not during a tournament such as the World Cup, which is why it was surprising to see him effusively praise 16-year old Riyan Parag, the top-order batsman who bowls handy offspin. “He was in phenomenal form, hitting it so beautifully in the build-up,” Dravid said. “It’s just unfortunate he got injured and then has taken a while to come into his batting groove. He’ll come good.”
Parag didn’t start the tournament because of a finger injury, and made the XI only for the final group game against Zimbabwe. Since returning, he has had two low scores but has consistently chipped in with the ball. The final may not be a bad time to repay the coach’s faith with the bat.
Jack Edwards has been talked up as one of the best players of spin in this Australian set-up. He’ll potentially be up against four spinners in the final. He made 73 in the opening game against India, and then trailed off until he hit a crucial, counter-attacking 72 in the semi-final against Afghanistan. Can he continue to surge in the final?
India are unlikely to tinker with their XI, despite the middle order not having played to full potential yet. Parag is yet to come into his own, while Harvik Desai has just one half-century from a low-pressure chase against Zimbabwe. Barring any last-minute injuries, all players pick themselves.
Nathan McSweeney’s only impactful knock – 156 against Papua New Guinea – came as an opener. With Max Bryant having scored just 93 runs in five innings, there’s perhaps a case for Australia to make a swap.
Pitch and conditions
It has been stormy in Mount Manganui. For two successive days, the pitch was under covers. Bright sunshine on match-eve has allowed the curators to add final touches to their preparation. In its short history, The Bay Oval has hosted a number of high-scoring matches. Since it does not have Test status yet, pitches have generally been tailored for short-form cricket. India made 328 when these two sides played in their opening game three weeks ago. Expect today to be no different.
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