When it was time to shine, Raj Bawa sparkled. In the Under-19 World Cup title bout against England. In the 25th over, England were 91 for 7 after electing to bat, and Bawa had four of those wickets. He ended with 5 for 31. "He is very strong mentally, he knows what to do in crunch situations, and he is very confident about his game," Yash Dhull, the captain, said of his star of the final after India's four-wicket win. Unsurprisingly, Bawa was the Player of the Match. Not just for the wickets, but a crucial 35 in a tricky situation during the chase.
A look at the scoreboard for India's first game, against South Africa, shows 4 for 47 against Bawa's name. But his first over, of eight balls, had gone for 17 runs. "He is a bit different," Dhull said. "While we have been enjoying ourselves, he has been focusing on his bowling in a big way, spending more time at training, speaking to the coaches, speaking to VVS (Laxman) sir. So the improvement showed." Especially with his use of the short ball, which Dhull said the bowler used sparingly to "surprise the batters". One of them went off Rehan Ahmed's edge on to his helmet, and another one accounted for George Bell, whose fend off his grille went behind to Dinesh Bana.
"The ball he bowled to George Bell, first ball, I don't really know how he could have played that," Tom Prest, the England captain, said. "He obviously bowled really well, so credit to him, we really didn't have an answer today."
Bawa was all the talk after India took a record fifth Under-19 World Cup title, but it certainly wasn't about him alone. Ravi Kumar picked up four wickets. The spinners gave almost nothing away even when England fought back with a 93-run stand for the eighth wicket. And then, when India were 49 for 2 and later 97 for 4 in their chase of 190, the batters rose to the occasion: Shaik Rasheed (50) and Dhull (17) first put on 46 for the third wicket, and Nishant Sindhu (50 not out) and Bawa added 67 for the fifth.
"The medium pacers have been doing well since the Asia Cup, giving us good starts with the ball, and that has made it easier for the spinners when they bowl to the middle order," Dhull said. "Ravi and Bawa gave us a good start today, and (Rajvardhan) Hangargekar has been doing well all along. It was a good performance.
"When they [England] had a partnership, between a left-hander and a right-hander [James Rew, who scored 95, and James Sales, who hit 34 not out], and the pitch had improved. They were batting well then, so we focused on dot balls.
"We knew there would be a partnership somewhere, they are a good team, but we didn't feel any pressure, because we were prepared for everything."
"It means I need to work on my game more, focus more, train more, so I can touch that level, achieve at that level. My training will double. It will be a higher level, so I have to work hard to match them" Yash Dhull, on moving to the next level after his Under-19 success
Then came the stutter during the chase. "We were normal. We knew we had a lot of batters. Even Ravi can bat. We have a lot of allrounders. So we were confident. We felt things were normal and we were in control," Dhull said. "While batting, the pitch had improved. So we knew that if we batted deep, we would get there. We just needed to bat till the end."
India's confidence was sky-high when their captain was batting with Rasheed. "We are good friends, we spend a lot of time together, we eat a lot of our meals together. So… when batting, we thought we would bat deep and finish it off. But I got out unfortunately, and then Sindhu came and batted well. Then Bawa and Bana finished it off."
The setbacks, before and during the World Cup
The build-up to the tournament was far from straightforward. Not just for India. All the teams struggled to get enough games because of the pandemic. For India, it got worse after the tournament started, as Dhull and quite a few others tested positive for Covid-19 and, at one stage, were struggling to put an XI on the field.
"It's a sign of a good team, that it backs players when they are down, and they are not made to feel that they had been away," Dhull said. "When we came back, it felt like nothing had changed, and we continued playing positively and got the results.
"It's a proud moment. For me and the team, and for the country. After a lot of struggles, we stayed strong, all the boys remained confident, we achieved what we did because we were strong, and we believed in ourselves."
Dhull has now joined Mohammad Kaif, Virat Kohli, Unmukt Chand and Prithvi Shaw as captains to have led India to Under-19 World Cup glory. Indeed, India have such a good record at the tournament that cricket followers in the country expect them to win it each time, even second-best is not good enough.
That, well, means pressure. Or not, for Dhull.
"We won the Asia Cup final too, and that's because we played positively, and took it match by match," he said. "This was just another match too. And we played it like it the way we play every match. We didn't think about the result, just played positively, and we got the result we wanted."
The future's so bright…
Now, though, life changes. The Under-19 World Cup is, after all, only a stepping stone.
"I will play cricket in the future too, so the conversations with (Laxman) sir and others is that the focus has to be on the cricket, and everything else will take care of itself. The main thing is the mindset. If I am strong, I will be focused, and take it match by match whatever opportunities I get," Dhull said - there's an IPL auction coming up and, possibly, a bit of cricket for Delhi in the domestic circuit, maybe even the Ranji Trophy.
"I am excited, because it will be the first time for me. But for me, it means I need to work on my game more, focus more, train more, so I can touch that level, achieve at that level. My training will double. It will be a higher level, so I have to work hard to match them."
That has to wait, though. It's time to soak it all in, "enjoy", like he keeps saying.
The trophy will stay in his hotel room, Dhull said with a laugh. And the celebration? It started with some ice-cream - remember, these are still boys! "Ice-cream has been sent to all our rooms, so we will enjoy that for now. Because, for a long time, we have had a strict diet, and we stayed away from things we like. So it's time to enjoy ourselves."