It’s not often you hear an Australian coach equate pace and India in the same breath, but that’s a reality the team isn’t understating ahead of the Under-19 World Cup final. For a change, despite the presence of three left-arm spinners and a legspinner, the talk in the camp has been around having to negotiate Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi, two of the fastest bowlers in the competition who have consistently clocked in excess of 140kph.
“It’s great to be talking about India and not talk about spin! They’ve got some really good bowlers there that bowl good pace, beautiful actions. I just watched them running into the wicket – it’s so easy for them. It’s great, it’s a challenge for our guys,” Ryan Harris, Australia’s head coach, said. “These guys haven’t faced so many guys who are consistently up around 135-140 mark. It’s a great challenge, it’s fantastic to see some young fast bowlers coming out of India. Usually, we speak about spinners coming out of there. It’s fantastic to see young fast bowlers there.”
The Australian team has gone through a number of sessions plotting and planning against India. In both the knockout matches so far, their middle order has stuttered, only to be steered expertly by Shubman Gill. Riyan Parag, India’s designated No. 5 batsman and finisher, hasn’t quite hit top form yet since recovering from a finger injury while the only half-century Harvik Desai has hit came in a low-pressure chase against Zimbabwe. This is the one chink Australia want to expose.
“I think their batting is strong at the top, but I don’t think their lower order has been really exposed – I guess our job is to get through those players at the top and get into the lower order,” Harris said. ‘It can go against you but with the way they’re playing, their top order is getting it done, so that’s our job to get through them and expose the lack of cricket the lower order has had.
“Don’t get me wrong, they’re playing some really good cricket and are a really good side. I guess our job is for our quicks to get through the top order and put pressure on the middle order. If we do that, we’ll come out successful.
In the tournament opener between the same teams, Australia conceded 328 and then saw the top order collapse to swing before spinners strangulated the lower order. None of their batsmen feature anywhere close to the top 10 run-scorers in the tournament, but they have Jack Edwards and Jason Sangha, two batsmen who have shown the adeptness to handle the bowlers tactfully.
Harris brushed aside lingering effects of that opening game loss to India, reiterating the group’s hunger to set the record straight, even though he conceded Australia were the underdogs, a tag he is happy to live with. “I think India have to be favourites,” he said, “they’ve gone through pretty convincingly in the tournament. But I don’t worry about that, I won’t talk to the boys about being underdogs.
“The best thing is that these boys were disappointed after the first game. They wanted to face India again and have another crack at them. It’s just great that it’s in a World Cup final. Obviously, with the change of draw – it was going to be a semi-final and now it’s the final. They’re really excited, they want another go at redeeming themselves. India are the in-form side, when you’re in the final against the in-form side, that’s what you want to do.”
Harris admitted to have had a few sleepless nights during the tournament. Getting the team composition right has been among the preparation checklist he has ticked off every game. There are a number of teething issues, though, none more so than their opening conundrum.
Their regular opener Max Bryant is yet to come good, while Nathan McSweeney, who made 156 not out in his only hit as an opener in the tournament, has now been pushed to the middle order. Now, there is a small matter of having to think about playing an out-of-form opener as against an in-form batsman who has had to move down the order. For now, Bryant has the team management’s backing, even though Harris was non-committal about persisting with him.
“We need to try and keep him positive, he’s had a disappointing tournament and he knows it. I’ve spoken to him,” Harris said. “We know he’s a good player and we have to give him that confidence to do what he does. He’s one of the players we’ll have a look at.”
Harris, however, was confident Australia weren’t far away from playing their best game. “We’ve gotten better with every game,” he said. “We came pretty close to our best game against Afghanistan. We got off to a good start, lost a couple but the way we finished was good. Nobody panicked, no one sort of tried to take it on wanting to finish early.
“They batted time, got used to the spinners and wicket and finished it beautifully. It was pretty close, but I’d still like us to bowl and field a fraction better. As a coach, you’re always looking for a perfect game. It rarely happens, but the occasion of a World Cup final wouldn’t be a bad time.”