Captain Unmukt Chand batted like a rockstar and produced under pressure an innings of astonishing beauty and power to ensure an improbable six-wicket triumph for India against hosts Australia in the u-19 ODI World Cup final on Sunday. Like the seniors, the u-19 side too are world champions now.
Chand, the gifted opener from east Delhi, enjoys life on the edge. His shot-making can make you swoon but his shot selection can leave you a nervous wreck. But he is a big match player. You cannot argue with the fact that each of his six sixes had the stamp of class, self-belief and authority. His unbeaten 111 took India past Australia’s 225 with 14 balls to spare.
But the outcome wouldn’t have been possible without keeper-batsman Smit Patel’s invaluable assistance. In tandem with Patel (62 off 84 balls), Chand put on an unbeaten 130 runs off 140 balls for the sixth wicket. It was the sort of partnership that makes getting up at 5 o’clock on a Sunday morning to watch a cricket match worthwhile.
Undeniably, Australia had far more depth and balance in their ranks. But the home side dropped two catches at crucial junctures. In the end, the match turned out to be a story of four catches – three dropped, one taken. Together they played a major role in deciding the fate of the final played in Townsville (Australia).
Underdogs India had their chances early in the day when they put Australia on the back foot. Patiala paceman Sandeep Sharma’s incisive inswingers knifed through the defence of the Aussie openers. Then the classy all-rounder Baba Aparajith produced a dream delivery to dismiss the destructive Kurtis Patterson. And when medium-pacer Ravikant Singh claimed wicket no 4, it was 38 for 4. The Kangaroos were hopping on the backfoot and India walking on cloud nine.
Then came, what appeared to be, a gamechanging moment. Newcomer Travis Head drove uppishly and the ball flew towards backward point fielder Akshdeep Nath, one of the safest fielders in the Indian team. Nath got both hands to the ball, and then, horror happened – it popped out. It would be unfair to say that like Herschelle Gibbs in 1999, Nath had almost dropped the World Cup. But it would be accurate to admit that the missed chance — the score was 47 then — changed the pattern of play.
It gave the hosts a chance to regroup. With the help of captain William Bosisto’s unbeaten 87 off 120 balls — he was dismissed only once in the entire championship – and healthy contributions from Head (37 off 56 balls) and Turner (43 off 50 balls), the Australians managed 225 for 8 after 50 overs.
It was a decent total but “gettable”, said commentator Ian Chappell. But India got off on the wrong off with opener Prashant Chopra rather unlucky to nick a delivery going done the leg side. However, India surprised its bands of supporters who had gathered with drums, cymbals and decibels as captain Unmukt Chand and the elegant Aparajith unfurled the classiest 20 minutes of batting display of the final.
Chand’s first six, the one he struck over long-off against the burly Gurinder Sandhu, was a statement of intent if ever there was one. Together with the compact Aparajith, they produced an array of enthralling strokes that had the Indian supporters waving their flags again.
Commentators were breathless with praise as memories of the Asia Cup final played earlier this year were revived. Chasing Pakistan’s 282 in that game, Unmukt Chand (121) and Baba Aparajith (90) had helped India share the trophy.
But the fireworks died as Aparajith failed to keep down a cover drive off Sandhu and Turner took a great diving catch at short cover. If catches win matches, this was one, as it ended the rollicking partnership that had fetched 73 runs off a mere 80 balls. The wicket forced Chand to curb his strokeplay for some time but, more importantly, it exposed the brittle Indian middle–order. Hanuma Vihari looked like an under-prepared schoolboy facing a stern test and Vijay Jol too failed to inspire confidence. More than talent, they seemed to lack the big stage temperament. Both made quick exits.
Just when all looked lost, Chand found an able ally in keeper-batsman Smit Patel. It helped that the wicket-keeper James Peirson dropped Patel when he was on 2, the home team’s first blemish of the day. India badly needed the break as the pair showed admirable composure batting business-like and running briskly.
Patel was more in the mode of a terrier gathering bones. But Chand often broke free. And when he bravely walked out to smote offie Turner over long on, the chase was truly on. It came down to India needing 61 off 60 balls with six wickets to spare. It was anybody’s game now. After three more overs, the equation was 49 runs off 42 balls. It was still anybody’s game.
Then the unthinkable happened. Captain Bosisto dropped a dolly offered by Chand off Gregory. He was on 84. Had the Australia captain dropped the Cup? Just to rub it in, Chand smashed his fourth six straight over the bowler’s head two balls later. Shortly, it was 35 required off 30 balls. With two set batsmen and six wickets intact, India emerged as the odds on favourite at this stage. But it was still touch and go because nobody had forgotten that the lower order had collapsed on more than one occasion.
The tension eased only when Chand conjured a breath-taking strike over cover, a shot that even Virender Sehwag would have clapped for, that the match firmly landed in India’s bag. It is indeed a tribute to Chand’s nervelessless that he also reached his century with a six.
Then Patel took over with a flurry of shots. He will never forget the pull that sped to the long on fence and sealed an unforgettable win for his side. No pleasure can match the euphoria of ending up on the right side of a yo-yo game.
For lifting their game and for having the self-belief to beat a superior side, take a bow Chand’s young India. You have made all of us happy and proud.