India Under-19s cogs settling into place as they go through to the semi-final of the World Cup

Once India Under-19s chose to bat on a sunny morning on the flat Fatullah pitch, there was a high probability that they would score big. The batsmen toyed with Namibia’s bowlers, cashed in on their sloppy fielding and then bowled them out for less than half the target of 350 even though the usual strategy of stifling oppositions with early wickets and dot balls didn’t work today.

All of India’s cogs are now settling into one another as the unbeaten team heads to the semi-finals. But, with Australia pulling out of the tournament, they have faced only one Full Member team in four matches. As such the team hasn’t been fully tested yet, and coach Rahul Dravid had been worried over a few issues over the depth of their batting. Now not so much.

“We had a few hiccups earlier on in the batting but it is nice to see that we have recovered and we are playing well,” he said. “We’re playing good cricket, focusing on the processes and not worrying too much about the results and things are going well. I think we have played some good cricket right through the tournament. At some stages, I still feel we have not played a perfect game, but this was our best all-round performance.”

India are slowly becoming efficient in all respects. It didn’t matter that their bowling leader Avesh Khan went wicketless for the first time in the tournament today. The other bowlers chipped in. Sharp catches were held by the slip fielders and the top order looks more proficient now.

Today was about mental adjustments though. Namibia, although an Associate team, made it to the quarter-finals after knocking defending champions South Africa out so captain Ishan Kishan wanted to make sure India weren’t taking things easy.

“Even if you are playing a smaller team you just need one good ball to get out whether it’s from a New Zealand or Namibia bowler,” he said. “We were not treating them like a weak team. Our batsmen have been doing well and scored when it mattered and rotated the strike. We were keeping our energy level high.

“We had spoken about our intensity during the team meeting today that we’ve been taking early wickets in each match and there were phases in the middle when we thought we would keep taking wickets. Today we had taken a target in our mind [to bowl them out] – 150 – and they were doing well at 90 for 2 and we told ourselves that we need to limit them to 150 only.

Dravid also said his team was not taking Namibia lightly. “Before the game started, we spoke about the dangers of being complacent and we wanted to get a win,” he said. “When you come into knockout stage, you can’t take any team for granted.”

One factor that would still bother the Indian camp would be the Kishan’s form after scores of 6, 52, 4 and 0 so far. “I’ve played four matches but haven’t done well in three of those,” he admitted. “Still I know my strengths and I know I can score well here. For now I won’t keep my body language loose and focus as much as I can.”

Kishan also highlighted on the benefits of a boot camp in Mysore before arriving in Bangladesh. He said it helped the players understand each other, built camaraderie and, more importantly, trust too.

“All teams play together for a long time and they get to practice a lot. It’s not like that with us,” Kishan said. “Other teams got five-odd tours but we had only two. The boot camp was very helpful because you trust each other while carrying out tasks. Those things are helping us now and we are taking care of each other, thinking about others’ problems and helping each other out.”

One of the two tours India played in was in Sri Lanka where they won a tri-series also involving England. Now Sri Lanka and England will face each other in the third quarter-final on Sunday and the winner will play India in the semi-final. But Kishan does not want to rest on past experience.

“The only advantage is that we are slightly familiar with their batsmen and bowlers but we don’t see which team we are playing against, we focus on the game and move forward. If we think about the opposition and that we have beaten Sri Lanka, then it will be a negative point for us. We have to forget all that and play afresh here. We know their strengths and weakness and we want to move forward match by match.”

Since it will be India’s second match of the tournament against a Full Member side, Kishan was asked if that would expose some flaws in the team that have not been seen so far. “It’s not like we haven’t done well,” he said. “Overall if you see we’ve been doing well since the Sri Lanka tour and we didn’t win all the matches easily. At the end they looked easy but initially there would be phases when you would be under pressure.”

India have done well till now to recover from top-order stutters and some exceptional fielding has complemented a balanced bowling attack. Two of their batsmen are now among the top five run-scorers of the tournament. Their spinners are also moving up the charts and Avesh, with nine, is the second-highest wicket-taker. There was still one aspect the captain thought India could improve on.

“Our batting is going well, fielding has been very good with single-handed catches and direct hits. The only area we want to improve on is mental toughness,” Kishan said. “We need to be mentally strong and not buckle under pressure that it’s a semi-final.

“It can happen in a World Cup semi-final since it’s a big match, there are expectations since a lot of people are watching you on TV. We want to be as tough as possible and not care much about the result. We are not lacking in mental toughness. We don’t want to panic which was good today also because they were off to a good start but we didn’t panic.”

Vishal Dikshit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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