Three games into the tournament and India are sitting pretty.
Papua New Guinea were vanquished in three hours, Zimbabwe in little over four. Once Australia were clinically dismantled in the opening game, India emerging group toppers was all but a formality, assuming, of course, that no game was rained out.
India have had it so easy so far that they have had the luxury of experimenting with their XIs. This has made little difference to the outcome. That is now a week in Tauranga wrapped up. Being based in the same city for the course of the group stages - largely owning to broadcast considerations - has allowed India to add some fun to their training routines without going through the regular protocols of hotel check-outs, flights, security clearances and acclimatising to new cities, unlike some of the other sides.
On Saturday, those who haven't had enough batting time underwent a net session in the morning. Post lunch, the team enjoyed a day out at Rotarua, famous for its geothermal hot springs and lakes. When they finally fly out of Tauranga on Sunday, they will do so with the knowledge that they have a week's break and plenty of time in Queenstown ahead of their quarterfinal. The one person for whom the journey could be particularly sweet is Anukul Roy, the left-arm spinner.
Roy's Under-19 World Cup dream nearly crashed even before it took off. A stress-related ankle injury forced him to miss the Under-19 Challenger Trophy in November, the tournament that helped the selectors pick the final 15 from a 35-member longlist. Roy also missed the Under-19 Asia Cup in Kuala Lumpur. He came into the World Cup straight out of rehabilitation and hours of bowling at India's pre-tournament camp in Bengaluru.
The team management obviously saw something in him. Rahul Dravid gave Roy the confidence that he was in consideration and asked him to focus only on his recovery. Whether this was a way to lift an impressionable 19-year old from a setback or an absolute show of confidence in his abilities, Roy has earned his stripes so far in the three games India have played. Against PNG, he picked up his maiden five-for in Youth ODIs. Against Zimbabwe, he picked up four wickets with his loop and flight. In the tournament-opener against Australia, his control against batsmen looking to go after him in the face of an escalating required rate stood out. In a side bursting with spinners - there are four others capable of completing their 10-over quotas - Roy has quietly left his imprint.
Roy admits to being unsure of his place before the tournament. "I was disappointed to miss out on the Asia Cup", he says. "Injured zyada rehte hai hum, khas karke bade match se pehle (I've often been injured, especially ahead of big matches). I was scared. The Challenger Trophy was the selection matches, but Rahul sir said you need rest, and the World Cup is the big tournament. Still, somewhere there was a fear that I won't be selected because others were performing well in the Challenger Trophy. But Rahul sir showed confidence in me."
The show of confidence stemmed from Roy's deeds on the tour of England in June-July, when he the highest wicket-taker in the Youth ODIs (10 wickets in four matches). He made a mark with the bat too, scoring 43 not out in the first match of that series. Here, against Australia, he was promoted to No.5 in India's quest for quick runs. In short, his role is not dissimilar to Ravindra Jadeja's in one-day cricket: bowl tight and score quick runs when needed. Roy, like Jadeja, is also a livewire on the field, with an excellent throwing arm. "I look up to him," Roy says. "His energy on the field is brilliant, I like his intensity on the field."
Roy's journey has not been easy. He comes from Samastipur, a town in northern Bihar. He grew up playing tennis-ball tournaments in the small town, and moved to Jamshedpur in the neighbouring state of Jharkhand in pursuit of serious cricket once his school coach and older siblings were convinced he was mature enough to live by himself.
"In Samastipur there wasn't much scope to improve my cricket, so I went to Jamshedpur and joined an academy there. Then I started understanding cricket," he says. "Living away from home was difficult, but since Bihar did not play in the Ranji Trophy, I had to make the move early. I used to stay in a paying-guest accommodation first, which I hated. Then I moved in with a few friends. It was tough because I didn't have much money in my pocket, but I at least did the basics well and kept playing matches."
Roy's family wakes up early on every India matchday to tune in and watch their boy play for India. This was a distant prospect in 2010, when all Roy would do was shadow-practise while cricket was on TV. Some even mocked him. Now he has taken some significant steps in his cricketing journey. He hopes to play first-class cricket soon and take it from there. Before that, he has potentially three more matches at this Under-19 World Cup.
"I didn't expect to play so it's a bonus," he says. "I go out to enjoy every game. Keep learning, keep trying and good things will happen. If we win, it will be the best thing that will happen to all of us at this age. It could be the start of something big."