Australia’s in-form top order and fast bowlers should test an unbeaten India, who knocked Australia out in 2018 and 2020
This is the third time in as many editions that India and Australia will be facing each other in an Under-19 World Cup knockout match. In 2018, Prithvi Shaw and co won the final. Two years later, Kartik Tyagi and the other quicks eliminated their opposition in the quarter-final. This time, though, it is the fixture in between: the semi-final.
For India, the ride so far has been easy on the field but tough off it. However, considering Covid-19-enforced unavailability across the tournament, whichever XI has turned up for them has looked like a cohesive unit, with India’s opponents not quite able to expose any glaring weaknesses. With the bat, Angkrish Raghuvanshi and Raj Bawa have put up big runs, although there remains plenty of promise in a line-up that bats deep and includes Rajvardhan Hangargekar, the new-ball bowler who can hit the big shots, as he did during an unbeaten 39 from 17 balls featuring five sixes against Ireland.
With ball in hand, Hangargekar and Ravi Kumar offer pace and swing, respectively. A trio of spinners led by left-armer Vicky Ostwal help put in the squeeze, while the more-than-handy part-timers Yash Dhull, Raghuvanshi and Harnoor Singh do the rest. This team effort gives India the best bowling average of 14.11 so far in this tournament, even as their batters have scored the most runs among sides which have batted at least four times.
However, Australia’s campaign has been quite similar to India’s, with a dominant top order combining with a varied fast-bowling attack to take the side into the final four; the only exception, though, was their loss against a spin-heavy Sri Lanka, which India will be well aware of.
Teague Wyllie, with two fifties and one century in the tournament already, will keep India’s in-form bowlers interested. His fellow opener Campbell Kellaway also comes in with more-than-respectable scores of 54, 47 and 47, while Australia’s middle order boasts of the muscle of Corey Miller, Aidan Cahill and Cooper Connolly. And if the pitch in Antigua on Wednesday turns out to be batting friendly, India’s fast-bowling assets could play into the hands of Australia, who enjoy pace and bounce, thus making it intriguing as to how their captain Dhull uses his bowlers.
Australia, meanwhile, have seamers who have been consistent in getting early breakthroughs. Tom Whitney averages less than 13 in the tournament, William Salzmann has taken seven wickets and Jack Nisbet has been miserly, with captain Connolly churning out economical left-arm spin. Whitney and Salzmann will be key in the first ten overs, with the threat of India’s openers going big if not removed early.
(Last five completed matches; most recent first)
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In the spotlight
Harnoor Singh was earmarked for greatness at the competition. With 131 runs in the Asia Cup earlier in the year and 191 in a tri-series also involving Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, he was among India’s leading run-scorers in the build up to this World Cup but has not lived up to reputation, with only a half-century and scores of 0, 1 and 15 in the other three games. India’s four successive wins to go with Covid-19 affecting player availability have kept Harnoor’s spot in the XI safe all along, but the semi-final might be the perfect place for him to repay the faith.
Australia’s captain Cooper Connolly has returned underwhelming scores through the competition, although either he bats late into the innings where the mandate is quick runs, or ends up facing an old, turning ball. However, he does get dismissed just when it seems he needs to bat for longer for his side. But the caveat for India will be Connolly smacking 117 against them in the pre-tournament warm-up game against them.
There are no injury concerns for either side, although India allrounder Nishant Sindhu remains in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19.
Australia (possible): 1 Teague Wyllie, 2 Campbell Kellaway, 3 Corey Miller, 4 Cooper Connolly (capt), 5 Lachlan Shaw, 6 Aidan Cahill, 7 William Salzmann, 8 Tobias Snell (wk), 9 Tom Whitney, Jack Sinfield, Jack Nisbet
Pitch and conditions
Spinners should relish the surface, but seam bowlers, too, are expected to find assistance through uneven bounce or lateral movement. In the quarter-final on Saturday, India lost five wickets while chasing 112 against Bangladesh at the same ground.
Stats and trivia
If Australia go on to win the Under-19 World Cup, they will tie with India on four, which is the most titles won by any team.
India have won their last three Under-19 World Cup semi-finals – in 2016, 2018 and 2020.
“There is no change from us in approach. We are just going to try and play some good cricket and hopefully, we can knock off India. They are a very good side and we know that, but I think if we play our best cricket we can beat them.”
Australia captain Cooper Connolly on the team’s approach.
Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx