Gone in 25 minutes

Those 25 minutes in the first session, when we lost six wickets for nine runs was shocking. India's debacle in the final, after eight brilliant months, including the lead-up, during which it emerged favourite for the World Cup, is shocking.

Winkling Pakistan out for 109 on the most important day of their young lives so far, India's under-19 cricketers would have scarce expected the events to follow. Ten minutes for the changeover of innings, and India needed to bat out a pocket of 25 minutes before the innings break. Some runs with no casualties in the short session, a couple of partnerships after the innings break, and the World Cup was in the bag. Instead, disaster struck.

"Those 25 minutes in the first session, when we lost six wickets for nine runs was shocking," says coach Venkatesh Prasad. "Before we went in to bat, I said it wasn't over till the last ball is bowled, till the last run is scored. Everyone was slapping high-fives and it was tough to hold them back. I said `Let's focus on the job on hand guys. We've gone through a lot of ups and downs together. You've done a lot. You've got to go do it now.' I shared my experience with them, of how we had got close to the target in the match against Zimbabwe in the '99 World Cup. I spoke of how the game is a great equaliser. Still I felt they took it easy."

It was a pity that 25 poor minutes pushed to the periphery eight brilliant months, including the lead-up, during which India had emerged clear favourites for the World Cup. The side was unbeaten till the final with impressive victories over England (234 runs) in the semifinal, West Indies (126 runs) in the quarterfinal, and Sri Lanka (four wickets) during the league phase. Cheteshwar Pujara was the leading run-getter of the tournament with 349 runs from six innings at 116.33 with a century and two fifties. Gaurav Dhiman (222 runs from five innings) and Rohit Sharma (205 runs from six innings) did well with the bat. Leg-spinner Piyush Chawla finished at number five on the bowling charts with 13 wickets at 12.15, including four for eight in the final. Opening bowlers V. Yomahesh (11 wickets) and A. N. Ahmed (10 wickets) were impressive through the tournament. The fielding was from the top draw, and captain Ravikant Shukla led his side well.

"I thought Ravikant's captaincy was excellent," says Prasad. "He kept the fielders up all the time in the final. The medium pacers bowled very well early on and it made the job of the spinners easier. Even Yomahesh, who went for runs in his first two overs, came back superbly. It was a brilliant bowling effort by the guys.

"I must give credit to Pakistan's bowlers for defending such a small target. They bowled quick and swung it around, but I felt we should have chased down 109. It was disappointing having done so well in the tournament, to not finish it. No one wanted to show any responsibility.

"Whatever we had done was undone," says Prasad, who opened India's bowling and finished with 292 international wickets. "The lower order fought hard — Piyush (Chawla) and Pinal (Shah) played well and closed the gap but ..." he trails off.

How was it to sit in the dressing room, incapable of doing anything? "Very frustrating. I gave them my inputs and could not do anything else." And how have the players taken the defeat? "They are very upset. They might not want to show it but I'm sure they feel it inside. But I'm really proud with what they have done. They have been keen to learn and have done a lot of hard work, and I have no complaints."

The Scores

ICC Under-19 World Cup, final. R. Premadasa Stadium, Colombo, February 19, 2006.

Man of the Match: Anwar Ali. Player of the Tournament: C. A. Pujara.

Pakistan: Nasir Jamshed c Ahmed b Jadeja 18; Ali Khan c Shah b Yomahesh 10; Mohammad Ibrahim lbw Jadeja 0; Rameez Raja lbw Sharma 25; Ali Asad b Piyush Chawla 2; Riaz Kail b Piyush Chawla 0; Sarfraz Ahmed st. Shah b Bipinbhai 15; Anwar Ali c Pujara b Jadeja 17; Imad Wasim st. Shah b Piyush Chawla 1; Jamshed Ahmed (not out) 1; Akhtar Ayub b Piyush Chawla 1; Extras (b-3, lb-4, w-7, nb-5) 19; Total (41.1 overs) 109.

Fall of wickets: 1-24, 2-25, 3-39, 4-49, 5-49, 6-78, 7-93, 8-103, 9-103.

India bowling: Yomahesh 8-0-32-1; Dhiman 1-0-5-0; Ahmed 6-1-15-0; Jadeja 8-1-16-3, Piyush Chawla 8.1-3-8-4; Sharma 6-0-17-1; Bipinbhai 4-1-9-1.

India: G. Dhiman b Jamshed Ahmed 0; C. A. Pujara lbw Anwar Ali 0; R. Sharma b Anwar Ali 4; Ravikant Shukla b Jamshed Ahmed 1; M. Tehlan b Anwar Ali 0; D. Das c & b Anwar Ali 0; R. S. Jadeja c Nasir Jamshed b Anwar Ali 6; Piyush Chawla (not out) 25; P. Shah c Sarfraz Ahmed b Akhtar Ayub 16; V. Yomahesh lbw Akhtar Ayub 3; P. M. Bipinbhai b Akhtar Ayub 0; Extras (b-1, lb-2, w-6, nb-7) 16. Total (18.5 overs) 71.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-5, 3-8, 4-8, 5-8, 6-9, 7-23, 8-62, 9-71.

Pakistan bowling: Jamshed Ahmed 7-2-24-2; Anwar Ali 9-0-35-5; Akhtar Ayub 2.5-0-9-3.

Pakistan full substitute: Usman Malik (Rameez Raja, 0.0 overs).

India full substitute: P. M. Bipinbhai (A. N. Ahmed, 21.0 overs).

— A Special Correspondent