New Delhi : 2000, 2008, 2012 and now 2018. India pulled off a sensational eight-wicket win over Australia in the big final of the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup to become the only side in history to lift the coveted title for a record fourth time. A clinical bowling performance by India saw them restrict Australia to 216, a total that Prithvi Shaw and his men gunned down comfortably in the end - with 67 balls remaining - to etch their name in history books.
The platform for the big win was laid by, first, the bowlers, who staged a terrific comeback to remove the last six Australian wickets for just 33 runs, and later by opener Manjot Kalra, who struck a 101-ball century to lead India to victory. Kalra got vital partnerships going with each batsman he batted with - 71 with Shaw, 60 with Shubman Gill and an unbeaten 89 with Harvik Desai and formed the fulcrum around which the chase revolved.
Considering the kind of form India's batting was in, getting 217 was never going to be much of a hassle, and that's exactly how things panned out. Kalra and Shaw provided India a brisk start, putting on 71 inside 12 overs despite a slight intervention due to rain. Even as play resumed, the openers went about scoring at over six and saw through the first period. Shaw spanked thunderous back-to-back cover drives for four that brought up India's fifty in quick time.
Shaw's short but solid knock of 29 ended when he played down the wrong line to Will Sutherland and was bowled. But there was nothing stopping Kalra, who inflicted a brutal carnage on Australia. Once he tonked Zak Evans for a six off a free hit, the left-hander looked in complete control of his innings. He brought up his fifty off 47 balls. The impact of his knock can be gauged by the fact that his partners - Shaw and Gill seemed content playing second fiddle. He played shots all round the ground and smoked three colossal sixes during his knock.
The Australian bowlers were made to sweat. Although they were extremely neat in the outfield, the bowling just didn't look near about threatening to dislodge the Indian batting. Gill was outdone by a smart piece of work from Param Uppal, to whom he danced down the wicket and got bowled for 31- his first score of under 50 in the tournament. But Desai (unbeaten on 47) showed no nerves, and along with Kalra took India over the line with a four towards extra cover, shortly after Manjot had reached his century.
Rahul Dravid, who coached this side to World Cup glory, said: "Really proud of the boys and the effort they put in. Proud of the effort they put in and couldn't be happier for them. Hopefully it's a memory they cherish for a long, long time, but hopefully not the lasting memory and they have many more great moments and bigger things in future. I don't want to mention names but everyone in the support staff has put in a great effort. We do the best for the kids."
Earlier, in overcast conditions, Australia showed no hesitation in opting to bat first. The openers creamed their way to 32 in five overs with Jack Edwards and Max Bryant collecting boundaries frequently between them. The breakthrough was provided by Ishan Porel, once again getting into the thick of things and removing both openers in a span of four overs. Skipper Jason Sangha signalled his arrival with a boundary but struggled to rotate strike since. He went hard after a ball outside off and slashed it for Desai, who had dropped a chance earlier, to take a fabulous catch.
At 59/3, India were on top. With spinners Shiva Singh and Abhishek Sharma operating in tandem and runs not easy to come by, the Australian innings showed character through Jonathan Merlo and Uppal as both batsmen began collecting boundaries at ease. The Indian bowlers were equally guilty of bowling too short, something that Merlo and Uppal dealt extremely well by rocking back onto the backfoot and sending the ball crashing towards the point boundary. The 50-run partnership was brought up off 68 deliveries and was beginning to look threatening.
The promising stand was broken by Anukul Roy. Uppal, having battled hard for 34, trying to flick one to the on-side offered a leading edge and a return catch to the left-armer. Another partnership blossomed for Australia with Nathan McSweeney supporting Merlo well for 49 runs, until the batsman offered India a second caught and bowled. With five down, Merlo remained the key for Australia but Shaw rotated his bowlers so well that the boundaries dried up and Australia banked heavily on rotating strikes.
India kept delivering telling blows and that mounted the pressure on Merlo, who finally perished for 76, lofting a reverse sweep for Shiva to take the catch in the deep and make Anukul the joint highest wicket-taker in the tournament. Baxter Holt was run out thanks to a beautiful piece of work in the field by Shiva and then Desai, Nagarkoti and Mavi returned to wipe out the tail.