COOLIDGE (Antigua): Heavyweights India and Australia will face off in a blockbuster Super League semifinal of the ICC Under-19 World Cup here on Wednesday, having beaten their opponents on the field and Covid-19 off it, on their way to the last-four stage.
India’s preparations for the age-group showpiece were impacted heavily by the virus, with hardly any national camps or tournaments in the last two years except the recent Asia Cup.
The four-time champions started the tournament on the right note, overcoming a good South Africa side by 45 runs, but soon ran into a situation where they were struggling to field a playing XI after multiple players were found to have contracted Covid-19 hours before their match against Ireland.
Five members of the squad were unavailable for their second group clash, against Ireland on January 19 after a Covid outbreak.
Captain Yash Dhull, his deputy Shaik Rasheed, Aaradhya Yadav, Manav Parakh and Siddarth Yadav were part of that group and missed both the Ireland and Uganda fixtures, forcing the BCCI to fly in reinforcements.
India were without many players for their match with Uganda and had to call in six reserves to play with the non-infected members of their squad.
But a spirited India got the better of all the challenges thrown at them and soundly defeated Ireland and Uganda before prevailing over Bangladesh by five wickets in a tricky chase in their quarterfinal match on a surface that was not conducive for playing strokes.
India are now back to full strength and in another good news, Nishant Sindhu has recovered from COVID-19 and will be available for selection for the all-important semifinal.
Now up against a formidable Australian side, India will take confidence from the fact that they made the semifinals with wins on the trot despite the challenges posed the virus.
This is the fourth time in a row that India will be appearing in the last-four stage of the competition.
India have a strong batting presence with the likes of Harnoor Singh, Angkrish Raghuvanshi and Raj Bawa, who broke Shikhar Dhawan’s record for the highest individual score by an Indian batter at the U-19 World Cup with his 162 not out against Uganda, shouldering the responsibility, besides skipper Dhull and Rasheed.
The bowling department is taken care of by left-arm pacer Ravi Kumar, who wreaked havoc in a five-over spell to leave Bangladesh struggling at 14/3, right-arm seamer Rajvardhan Hangargekar, spinners Vicky Ostwal and Kaushal Tambe, besides medium pacer Bawa.
As far as Australia are concerned, the two-time champions will be on a high after their convincing win over Pakistan in the quarters.