There is undoubtedly a fierce rivalry between India and Australia at the ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup. Both teams have won the tournament on three occasions and the last time they met in a final, in 2012 in Townsville, the contest lived up to all the expectations.
It was a promoter’s dream. Australia, the host nation, against India, a nation in love with the sport. The television audience peaked at close to 100 million and Indian fans assembled from all around Australia to get a glimpse of the future stars of world cricket.
On a bright sunny morning, a rarity during the 2012 U19 CWC, India won the toss and elected to bowl. By the time the first ball was bowled, thousands of Indian fans already set themselves up on the grassy banks and in the grandstand. The 'punjabi' dhol, was present, Indian flags outnumbered Australian ones and each Indian supporter made a conscious effort to wear a blue shirt.
The away support was sent into raptures in the initial stages as the Indian bowlers restricted to Australia 38/4. Current Australian star Travis Head then resurrected the innings with a counter-attacking 37 and skipper Will Bosisto stroked a masterful unbeaten 87 to propel Australia to a competitive total of 225 in 50 overs.
That score might seem below par, but the 2012 U19 CWC was dominated by seam bowlers and any total in excess of 200 was considered a major challenge for the team batting second. During the innings break you could sense the anxiousness amongst the Indian fans, who had rallied around the team over the previous three weeks by providing home-cooked Indian meals for the majority of the players.
At the restart, the Indian supporters had gone quiet. If India were to win, their captain Unmukt Chand had to deliver. He was the most high-profile batsmen in the side and yet to score a ton in the tourament. Australian pacer Mark Steketee removed opener Prashant Chopra early to give them the breakthrough. But for the next hour or so, the crowd witnessed some of the best batting of the tournament virtue of Chand and Baba Aparjith. The crowd found their voices and the minute Chand dispatched Gurinder Sandhu over the ropes, they erupted.
It took a spectacular catch by Ashton Turner to remove Aparjith, a wicket that led to mini-collapse as India went from 7/15 to 97/4. At that point the Indian camp decided to take a gamble and promote wicket-keeper Smit Patel, ahead of frontline batsman Askdeep Nath. It would turn out to be a masterstroke.
Chand and Patel bided their time initially before cutting loose manner. With still over 50 runs required, the Australian captain, Bosisto dropped a straightforward catch in the covers, shades of the famous Herschelle Gibbs drop of Steve Waugh at the 1999 World Cup.
With 35 required off 30 balls, Chand smashed Sandhu into the crowd to bring up his ton. The crowd had got their wish and India were coming home strong. The fans geared up for celebrations, people were lifted onto shoulders, supporters hugged each other with tears in their eyes, screaming Chand's name in delight. By the time Patel slogged one over midwicket, the fans had already jumped the fence and wrapped the tri-coloured flag around Chand.
It was a victory against the odds, savoured not only by the players, but the local community. So proud were the locals that over 50 of them came to the airport to send the players off. It was a World Cup win not just for India, but for the cricketing folk of Townsville.