Would the semi-final clash between India and Sri Lanka in the ICC Under-19 World Cup at theSher-e-Bangla National Stadium on Tuesday (February 9) have panned out differently had Charith Asalanka opted to bat first and then used his spinners to defend a total? Or if he had persisted with his seamers for a few extra overs after they removed the Indian openers within the first ten overs?
As it turned out, Anmolpreet Singh and Sarfaraz Khan survived some tight bowling by the new-ball duo of Asitha Fernando and Lahiru Kumara in overcast conditions on the back of overnight showers to make attractive half-centuries and set up India’s 97-run win. Chasing India’s 267 for 9, Sri Lanka was shot out for 170 in 42.4 overs.
Through to the final now, India awaits the winner of the second semi-final between Bangladesh, the host nation, and West Indies.
Even if India was hampered by injuries to Rahul Batham and Mahipal Lomror, both of whom walked off the field in the middle of their respective overs, Sri Lanka never managed any momentum in its chase of 268 after losing three wickets inside the Power Play overs.
India made a poor start to the day, losing Ishan Kishan, the captain, and Rishabh Pant, the in-form opener, with just 27 on the board, uniting Anmolpreet with Sarfaraz in the 10th over.
While Sarfaraz stamped his class yet again with his fourth half-century in five matches that took him to second in the batting charts behind England’s Jack Burnham, the manner in which Anmolpreet batted in the biggest match of his life to date was another indication of India’s deep batting reserves.
The third-wicket pair of Sarfaraz and Anmolpreet, which put on 96, was helped by the fact that the Sri Lankan spinners were hardly threatening, unlike in the quarter-final against England. Having played most of their cricket on slow turners in India, Anmolpreet and Sarfaraz gauged the situation well.
First they focussed on the resurrecting the innings before Sarfaraz swept Wanidu Hasaranga, the leg-spinner, for consecutive fours in the 19th over. From thereon, runs came pretty easily as the game slowly but steadily slipped away from Sri Lanka’s grasp.
Sarfaraz, as is his wont, forced the pace of the game and brought up his fifty with a stylish lofted six off Damitha Silva, the left-arm spinner, over long-off. Having changed gears, he was no more in the mood to graft, and it looked as if he was one ball away from getting out.
Looking for a breakthrough, Asalanka brought back pace through Fernando in the 31st over. Sarfaraz stepped out to a short delivery to a play flat-batted shot, as if to settle a score, and was caught at mid-on for 59.
Asalanka then brought himself on in the next over, but his moves hardly worked from thereon.
Playing second fiddle till then, Anmolpreet brought out the aggressive elements of his batting, while Washington Sundar (43) became the grafter in the fourth-wicket partnership of 70, which came at 5.91 runs per over.
India kept losing wickets towards the end in trying to bring out the big strokes, but Armaan Jaffer’s 16-ball 29, which included a meaty six to long-on, and cameos from Lomror and Mayank Dagar carried it to a huge total in the context of the match.
Sri Lanka’s chase got off to a poor start as Avishka Fernando, who had made 95 against England, was unlucky to be adjudged lbw off Avesh Khan in the first over.
Kaveen Bandara was run out in the fourth over before Batham, the first-change seamer, struck early, as he has been doing throughout the tournament. Batham had Asalanka, Sri Lanka’s best hope, caught at mid-on in his first over.
Kamindu Mendis and Shammu Ashan tried to resurrect the chase with a 49-run partnership. Their approach kept the Indians edgy as they missed run-out opportunities, at least one easy catch and conceded a four with an overthrow.
India, however, bowled tight to dry up the boundary balls, and the pressure of the rising required run rate got to the Sri Lankans.
Dagar, the left-arm spinner who like Anmolpreet has added depth to the Indian line-up after missing out on the first few games, struck in his first over when Mendis offered an easy catch to Washington at short fine-leg in the 24th over to perish for 39.
Not long after that, Ashan, who was starting to find his groove back after having not done much in his last three knocks, was found out by a smart throw from Kishan from midwicket.
Ashan’s departure for 28 in the 38th over effectively ended the chase.
Even if it was a convincing win, India will know that it was far from being a complete performance. The fielding fumbled the first time the players were put under pressure in the tournament, and the openers failed to fire as a unit yet again.
India has five days to sort out the chinks in its armour ahead of the title clash on February 14, its fourth appearance in the final in the 11th edition of the competition.
(Photos: Sameera Peiris)