Defeat teaches you a lot more than victory, but the price of learning is often costly. On the day, though, India's 31-run loss to England, mattered little in terms of their advancement to the next round. The loss means their quarterfinal opponents will be Pakistan, rather than the West Indies.
“In a match like this, where the situation is tight, you learn a lot about the temperament of different players,” said coach Chandrakant Pandit. The lessons India picked up, and how quickly they can put them into practice will determine how far they go in this tournament.
But England learnt they could win. Till Thursday, they'd played India four times in under-19 World Cups and lost each time. When they were put in to bat and thoroughly undone by the pinpoint accuracy and occasional extra bounce of Saurabh Netrawalkar (3/25), there was an unmistakeable sense of deja vu as the scoreboard read 60 for 4.
India pressed on, using up valuable overs from fast bowlers Sandeep Sharma, Harshal Patel in an attempt to kill the game. But Ben Stokes, a tall left-hand batsman, and Atiq Javid, a diminutive, buzzing fighter, decided that they would survive. Starting with ungainly pokes and barely effective prods, the two built a 100-run stand that kept the innings alive.
Javid, who changed from helmet to cap at one stage to annoy the quicker bowlers, whipped the ball around like a seasoned pro. When he fell, India's hopes rose, only to be smothered.
Stokes, standing tall and hitting the ball a long way, took on the spinners and quick men alike. Launching line drives that cleared the ropes by some way - Stokes hit 6 sixes but only 4 fours - he got to an even 100 and powered England to 246.
“I'm naturally strong. It's in the family, and I do a lot of work in the gym,” the Christchurch-born Stokes said. “To come back home and make a hundred in a World Cup, that's special.”
When India began their response, it seemed that England's special would be made to look ordinary. K.L. Rahul tucked the ball off his pads with inhuman ease and Mayank Agarwal crunched sixes over the off-side like it was his birthright. When Rahul was given out caught behind to what Meenaria called a “dicey decision”, Agarwal went berserk. Slashing away with gay abandon, he thrilled briefly, survived a catch that was a bump ball, and then promptly hit one in the air. Jack Manuel, patrolling the outfield, ran around and plucked a one-handed catch that beggared belief. “He's not one of our best fielders,” said England skipper Azeem Rafiq. “In fact, he's been dropped in the past because of his fielding.”
With the openers gone, and only 62 on the board, India needed one batsman to take control of the game. But the middle order failed and quickly. At 118 for 6, the game was gone, but the tail wagged enough to ensure India were flattered by the margin of defeat.