Deepak Hooda, Sarafaraz Khan and Kuldeep Yadav play their parts, but defending champions still go down by three wickets
The first quarterfinal of the ICC Under-19 World Cup on Saturday (February 22) was built up as a contest between the Indian spinners and England’s pacers.
As it turned out, Matthew Fisher’s three-wicket burst, Ben Duckett’s wonderful 62, and a calming unbeaten 24 by Robert Jones under pressure gave England a thrilling three-wicket victory at Dubai International Cricket Stadium and helped it book a spot in the semifinals, to be played at the same venue on February 24 against Pakistan, who beat Sri Lanka by 121 runs in another quarterfinal.
Chasing 222, England needed 37 in the last six overs and had four wickets in hand. It could have opted to play out Kuldeep Yadav, India’s best bowler of the day, but, Joe Clarke decided to take him on. He found a boundary off the the first ball of the over, but on the third, he miscued a sweep and Vijay Zol ran backwards and covered good ground at midwicket to take a good catch.
But Clarke, who was dropped by Deepak Hooda at long-on when on eight, had by then put England ahead with his 45-ball 42. Jones then took over and showed tremendous maturity, and with Robert Sayer, took England home with five balls to spare.
Earlier, Fisher set the tone with his three top-order wickets in the morning as India, having decided to bat on a foggy morning after a half-hour delay, was reduced to 22 for 4 in quick time.
Fisher is only 16 and looks up to James Anderson because he thinks they both have similar roles to play in their respective teams, and Anderson would have been proud of the way Fisher bowled to pick up his three wickets.
It was not the first time India’s top order had failed to deliver in the tournament, but Saturday’s collapse was dramatic and left India in dire straits. Ankush Bains went for a cut off Jack Winslade but was done in by the extra bounce and gave Clarke a comfortable catch behind the stumps. Then Akhil Herwadkar pushed at an outgoing delivery from Fisher and Clarke held on to his second catch.
And then came the best delivery of the innings. Fresh from his 48-ball 85 against Papua New Guinea, Sanju Samson was welcomed to the crease by Fisher with a good length delivery that left him, and he had no option but to push at it and give Duckett a regulation catch at first slip.
With one of the biggest scalps of his career, Fisher had his tail up and he persisted with his line of attack, not trying to do anything extraordinary.
He focussed on the basics of putting the ball at a length on off stump and it was a matter of time before it played on the mind of Ricky Bhui, brought back into the side in place of Shreyas Iyer. Playing away from his body, Bhui edged one to give Duckett his second catch and Fisher his third wicket.
Had Clarke held on to a chance from Hooda, promoted ahead of Sarfaraz Khan, in the ninth over off Fisher and Winslade taken the caught-and-bowled chance off Zol in the tenth over, the innings could have slipped further.
As it happened, Zol and Hooda ground out a tough period of play and focussed on rotating the strike. While Zol grew in confidence and took the responsibility of rebuilding the innings, Hooda mixed caution with aggression.
What helped Hooda was that Ed Barnard dropped a mishit from him off the legspinner Jones at mid-on, one Barnard would have caught at nine times out of ten, when he was on 27. Hooda survived, and managed to find boundaries regularly, keeping the England fielders on their toes.
The 87-run stand between Zol and Hooda had settled the nerves in the dressing room when Zol was out for 48 when he checked his shot against a Sayer delivery that was bowled from deep inside the crease and stopped a bit, and Zol was caught by a diving Duckett at cover.
Soon after that, Hooda brought up his half-century, and the arrival of Sarfaraz meant that the innings got a push. Hooda and Sarfaraz added 36 runs before a poor piece of running between the wickets in the penultimate ball of the Power Play led to Hooda’s dismissal. Hooda responded after a dab from Sarfaraz but could not cover the ground as Jonathan Tattersall dived from backward point to break the stumps at the batting end with a sharp underarm throw. Hooda made 68, and painted the image of a youngster who revels in delivering for his team under pressure.
At the other end, Sarfaraz was enjoying the challenge. Along with Aamir Gani, Yadav and Chama Milind, Sarfaraz ensured that India kept the momentum with them. By the time he finished the innings with back-to-back fours to extra cover to bring up his second fifty in four games, Sarfaraz was beating his chest in excitement.
India carried the spirit to the field as Monu Kumar trapped Harry Finch lbw, Ryan Higgins hit one to Samson in the covers, and Tattersall was caught and bowled by Milind.
But that was when Duckett and Barnard brought England back in to the game. While Barnard was defensive, Duckett played his strokes, and his three reverse sweeps against the spinners were from the top drawer, leaving Zol a bit clueless in the field.
With the spinners slowing it down, something had to give and Barnard succumbed to temptation when he hit a loopy delivery from Yadav to Samson at long-on. Soon after that, Duckett, who had batted excellently for his 61, miscued an attempted steer through the leg side and Zol picked up the resultant leading edge at cover. And Will Rhodes was done in by a googly from Yadav.
With the game hanging in the balance, Hooda dropped a sitter off Clarke at long-on and then gave away 11 runs in the penultimate over and that proved to be the difference.