3:00 AM ET
Sreshth Shah in Bloemfontein
Ten hours after their ‘A’ teams meet for a one-dayer at Christchurch, and seventy minutes after their senior teams begin their T20I series in Auckland, the India and New Zealand U-19 sides will face off in Bloemfontein to see which team tops Group A at the World Cup. The winner will avoid the unbeaten and in-form West Indies in the quarter-final.
India’s bowling hasn’t been fully tested so far. They’ve bowled out both Sri Lanka and Japan, the efforts have been spearheaded by Kartik Tyagi, the right-arm pacer, left-arm seamer Akash Singh and legspinner Ravi Bishnoi.
India made three changes for the Japan game, but couldn’t quite read much into it because of the nature of their 10-wicket win. Kumar Kushagra – who came in for opener Divyaansh Saxena – played only 13 deliveries and Shashwat Rawat – who came in place of allrounder Shubhang Hegde didn’t bat at all.
The only clarity India have is what role Vidyadhar Patil, the right-arm medium pacer, plays. He took just one wicket but was consistent in his lines and lengths, even swinging the ball both ways. What that means for Sushant Mishra, the player he replaced, remains to be seen.
Imdia haven’t been put under pressure at all, unlike New Zealand, who were in a must-win against Sri Lanka after settling for a point due to a washout against Japan. A loss there could’ve been curtains to their quarter-final hopes, an it needed a final-over six from Kritian Clarke to take them over the line. The victory would have has given New Zealand a sense of self-belief.
New Zealand opener Rhys Mariu will be a key wicket for India. He’s scored 51 and 86 in the two games and is playing the role of team anchor at the top, while Beckham Wheeler-Greenall, the attractive middle-order batsman showed in the game against Sri Lanka that he can comfortably tackle spin. Clarke can ramp his pace up to the late 130s early on in his spell and could trouble India’s top order, while the duo of wristspinner Adithya Ashok and the captain and left-arm orthodox bowler Jesse Tashkoff have shown control in the middle overs through the warm-up games and the match against Sri Lanka. Ashok has taken a three-for in each of his last three games, while both spinners found success against India at the pre-World Cup quadrangular tournament as well.
That’s not to say India’s batsmen are not capable of tackling New Zealand’s attack. In the last game they played at the quadrangular tournament, they struck Ashok for six runs an over despite losing two wickets to him and scored 252 on a difficult surface. To give one a rough idea of how tricky the Durban surface was – where teams were playing a game every day across ten days – New Zealand were skittled out for 132.
Left-arm spinner Atharva Ankolekar, who hasn’t yet played a World Cup game, was India’s star at that match, taking 3 for 16. Now, he could make his way into the XI against a side that will be aware of the damage he can cause.
It’s also worth noting that New Zealand’s highest total in their last seven games is only 243, the one that came against Sri Lanka. The India game will be a good test of their temperament, and they don’t need to go too far back in history to find motivation. When India were under the pressure at the semi-final of the seniors’ World Cup last year, it was underdogs New Zealand who were the thorn in their step to the final.
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Both sides would prefer to play either England or Australia in their quarterfinal, and for that they need a win. No cracks have yet been found in the Indian team that has looked simply flawless on the field, winning ten of their last 11 games (including practice matches) entering the match-up, but if they are to lose, this would be the only game they can afford to.
It’s the final opportunity for both teams to figure their best XIs, and perhaps even commit an error or two. Because once both sides shake their hands and leave the field, they cannot afford to make a single mistake moving forward into the World Cup knockouts.
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