Written by Gaurav Joshi
As celebrations began in the India Under-19 dressing room at the Bay Oval in New Zealand, the players spilled beverages on the floor. Coach Rahul Dravid didn’t want to be a wet blanket on the day his team had won the World Cup but he politely told this group of young men to continue partying but without dirtying the place. It was quintessential Dravid. And the boys quickly moved the ‘party’ outside. Earlier, this noisy bunch had danced in the background as Dravid was being interviewed by the official broadcaster. Dravid looked amused before he delivered a sobering line.
“Hopefully it’s a memory they (the players) will cherish for a long time, and hopefully it’s not a memory that defines them and they will have a lot of bigger and better memories as they go on ahead in their careers,” Dravid said on Saturday.
The Under-19 players would have heard similar words of wisdom from the coach in the run-up to the World Cup, but on Saturday night they were perhaps too caught up in the frenzy to pay attention. Dravid knew they hadn’t heard him and he didn’t mind either for this was an evening for the players to let their hair down and bask in the victory.
The Prithvi Shaw-led side had beaten Australia by eight wickets to lift a record fourth Under-19 World Cup. Opening batsman Manjot Kalra scored an unbeaten 101 to guide India home after Australia chose to bat but were bowled out in the 48th over for 216.
On the eve of the World Cup final, the Indian team gathered in the meeting room and reminisced about their journey together over the last two years and went through a series of photos and videos. It was a deliberate ploy by the coaching staff to get the youngsters’ minds off the biggest match of their lives.
It is learnt that a short message from Coach Dravid followed, “It’s been an enjoyable journey so far and let’s continue it for one more day.” Less than 24 hours later, Shaw and his team had lived up to that message.
On Saturday, when the target was down to single digits, the entire dressing room had moved to the porch as they waited for Kalra’s impending ton. With each dot ball, the anxiety grew and the players on the sidelines started to get restless. Just when it looked like they couldn’t take the tension any more, 12th man Aaran Juyal put his foot down and screamed, “Doston baith jao – aap sab baithe the toh achha chal raha tha (Friends sit down, when you were all sitting, things were going well).” In a flash, all of them obliged.
A minute later, Kalra had his ton and after greeting it with unabashed joy, they walked hand-in-hand and assembled along the boundary line. They could smell victory and knew it would come soon. When it did, they didn’t wait to see how far Harvik Desai’s hit through the point region had travelled before bolting on to the field. Dravid got up and embraced each member of his support staff while letting the players have their moment in the sun.
The players then broke into a series of dance moves that seemed perfectly scripted. The highlight — Shaw standing in front of the whole group and pretending to push them one by one as they all dropped down and remained sprawled across the floor. Shaw would later reveal it was a move from a Playstation video game.
It was the perfect end to the script, but it wasn’t the brightest of beginnings for India on Saturday. The bowling was wayward, the fielding shoddy and catches that were pouched with ease earlier in the tournament spilled. It was perhaps the only period during this World Cup that the Indian team looked like they wouldn’t be crowned champions. But that was just a blip.
Once Ishan Porel provided the first breakthrough, India were back in the groove. Australia would stumble to be all out for 216 – they were 134 for 4 in the 29th over – from a position of strength. Suddenly, the Indian crowd had found their voice and Punjabi music echoed around the Bay Oval.
A few early boundaries from Shaw and Kalra allowed the Indian dressing room to relax even more, and the team manager sauntered out and walked around like it was any other match, not a World Cup final.
Partnerships worth 71, 60 and the unbeaten 89 stitched together by Kalra and wicket-keeper Harkiv Desai helped India canter home to an eight-wicket win.
The players eventually, once they were done with their mid-pitch shenanigans, took a victory lap around the ground and seemed more than eager to oblige every selfie.
As the celebrations continued indoors, Kamlesh Nagarkoti emerged out of the dressing room and asked for a ‘selfie’ with the media. One journalist said that by the time they returned to India Nagarkoti wouldn’t be so accommodating towards the camera and the media, citing the examples of teams that had previously achieved this feat. Pat came the reply from Nagarkoti, who has turned heads with his pace during the tournament: ‘Nahin, hum waise nahi hai (No, we are not like that)’.