As the eleventh edition of the U19 World Cup draws to an end, with just the semi-finals and final left to be played, the subcontinent countries look strong, extremely strong here in Bangladesh. With three of the four semi-finalists being subcontinental teams, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India, it is has been an impressive performance by them to reach to this stage.
However the last team to qualify, West Indies, has an X-factor about them. The power to clear the boundaries with ease, a pace attack that most open teams would be happy to possess, and their athletic ability in the field and running between wickets; at this stage of the tournament, they are a side that could pull off anything.
Though before I put my best foot forward and make a prediction, let’s look at some factors that might play a role in the eventual winner.
The wicket at Mirpur, Dhaka has surprised a lot of us in commentary box with the amount of pace and bounce extracted by the fast bowlers. However, as the tournament gets to the pointy end, the spinners are coming into their own, stifling the runs in the middle overs.
Just ask England, who bowed out of the tournament at the quarter-final stages at the hands of Sri Lanka, who are fortunate to have some quality spinners.
Unlike the rest of the teams, Sri Lanka don't have a quick bowler that sends down the white ball over 130 km/h. Instead, it is their spinners that have done the job till now. Therefore Mirpur might just suit their attack. However, if they are going to make their second final in U19 World Cup history, they have to overcome the powerhouse of India.
For them tomorrow's match against India is their World Cup Final; get past India and they may just be lifting their first ever U19 World Cup.
On the other side of the coin, India have been impressive from the first game. It seems that every base is covered on and off the field. From their quicks, Avesh Khan, Khaleel Ahmed and Rahul Batham, to their top order of Ishan Kishan, Rishabh Pant, Sarfaraz Khan, and their middle order of Washington Sundar, Armaan Jaffer and the finisher Mahipal Lomror, who also does a job as a spinner. I could really name the whole playing eleven that has taken the field each game; they haven't missed a beat, and when one player hasn't performed on that day, another has taken up the challenge.
Let us not forget that they also have the legendary Rahul Dravid sitting in their dugout as head coach. If the opposition isn't daunted by the fact that he is guiding this team extremely well, then they should be. His advice on dealing with pressure, building an innings and his many other lessons have been vital to the success of this team.
Since this group of players has come together, they have played a number of series in the build up to this World Cup, and have won a remarkable 19 consecutive games.
That record of 19 games may be the only reason why India may not raise the silverware on the 14 February. As most players, coaches, commentators and lovers of the game say "every team needs a loss to remind them how important it is to win and the feelings you should feel when you do win."
Having been part of the NSW Breakers that won a remarkable 15 out of 17 games in the women's domestic competition, it was those losses that I can remember the most, which were a stark reminder that I didn't want to be on the losing side again.
In the other semi-final, we have the host nation Bangladesh facing the West Indies. Both teams have fought really hard to get to this stage.
For Bangladesh, their quarter-final against Nepal was a remarkable game that showed a lot of their maturity. At 98/4 still requiring another 113 runs, it was their captain Mehedi Hasan Miraz and their wicket-keeper Zakir Hasan who guided them to victory with 10 deliveries to spare. What impressed me the most was that they didn't panic, kept the scoreboard ticking over with singles & twos, and didn't take any unnecessary risks.
With over 10,000 locals cheering them on against Nepal, the home ground advantage will also play a role during the semi-final. If Bangladesh can hold their nerve against the West Indies, whose plan of attack is to blast them off the field, they will make their first global ICC World Cup final. And what a boost it would be for cricket in this already passionate country.
Despite all that, I am going to go with India to win the U19 World Cup. I truly believe that India have such depth in all departments, with all players contributing at some stage throughout the tournament. Each player is confident in their own performance and has played a vital role to the team’s success so far.
Who do you think will win?