The Indian team that has won the Under-19 World Cup five times (more than any other) and has made each of the last four finals, you would least expect to reach the semi-finals. So, there is perhaps nothing flashy about the 2024 batch as they prepare for the last four clash against hosts South Africa in Benoni on Tuesday, but the swagger with which they have demolished opponents so far is still commendable. .
The boys' squad changes every two years – no Indian is allowed to play more than one World Cup – but the under-19 system in the country is so professional and strong that their players are better than other players at this level. Looks well equipped. Opponents.
They have underlined their superiority by achieving spectacular victories one after the other. When India began their campaign against Bangladesh in Bloemfontein two weeks ago, you wouldn't have guessed that an 84-run win would be their narrowest ever win. In that game, fifties from Adarsh Singh and captain Uday Saharan proved crucial in taking India to 251/7 and Soumya Pandey's 4/24 restricted Bangladesh to 167.
After this he did not have to sweat even a single drop. Different players have contributed at different times, which is very important in a major tournament where excessive reliance on one or two players can be a dangerous path to the knockouts. But as far as standout performers go, it's hard to look beyond Musheer Khan with the bat and Pandey with the ball.
Sarfaraz Khan's younger brother Musheer currently leads the run-scoring charts with 334 runs in five innings at an average of 83.5. Batting at No. 3, Musheer has been able to withstand the early pressure before opening up and showing his more flamboyant side. His most decisive contribution came against New Zealand, in which he scored 131 runs from 126 balls, helping India score 295/8 and secure a comfortable 214-run victory. His left-arm orthodox spin is also a useful second skill, reflected in his four wickets at an economy of 3.01 in five matches.
However, in Pandey it is another left-arm spinner who has been India's primary weapon with the ball. The 19-year-old from Madhya Pradesh is the third-highest wicket-taker of the tournament with 16 wickets in five matches. Simple bowling actions and incredible accuracy are at the heart of Pandey's method, allowing Saharan control on the field.
Saharan has also been no less important. Expectations are high considering India's achievements in previous editions, but the youngster has dealt with it all with a sense of calm. He is behind only Musheer in terms of runs, with 308 runs, including a timely century against Nepal in his last game.
“It's a good thing to have different players stepping up. We are not thinking about dominance. We want to play to the best of our ability on any given day. All the players are working hard, we are playing well as a team, India Under-19 coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar said before the semi-final against South Africa.
While most indicators point towards India building on their proud record and bidding for a sixth title, the South Africans will be hoping to spring surprises in conditions they should know like the back of their hand. They haven't exactly had an easy campaign after losing to England in the group stage, but as was reiterated in the Senior ODI World Cup three months ago, what's happened in the past may be irrelevant on the big day. At least that's what South Africa will stick to on Tuesday.