'Resilient' Aussies to renew U19 rivalry after COVID chaos

Despite multiple positive cases across different Caribbean islands, the young Australians have emerged as World Cup semi-finalists and will face powerhouses India

Whether or not Australia's Under-19s are able to topple an Indian side that has knocked them out of the past two age-group World Cups, they will rightfully be able to say they have played with uncommon resilience.  

For the first time in this tournament, the young Aussies will have a full squad to pick from for Thursday's (midnight AEDT, broadcast live on Fox Cricket and Kayo) semi-final against heavyweights India following weeks of COVID-19 disruption.

At one stage before their quarter-final victory over Pakistan, Australia's 15-player squad was split between three different countries after five players contracted the virus at various stages during the tournament in the Caribbean.

Jack Sinfield and Lachlan Shaw were forced to remain in Guyana having tested positive before the tournament-opening win over West Indies at Providence, before Tom Whitney and Nivethan Radhakrishnan fell ill in St Kitts during the ensuing matches against Sri Lanka (a four-wicket loss) and Scotland (seven-wicket win) on the island.

Isaac Higgins then tested positive following the game against Scotland, for which Australia had only 11 fit players to choose from, and also had to remain in St Kitts while the rest of the squad travelled to Antigua for their quarter-final.

Image Id: 378F6C8A484B41AC807F62B0ADCE1134 Image Caption: 'They've just taken it all in their stride' // Getty

Adding to the disruption, CA staff also remained behind with affected players as part of their duty of care for a group of cricketers still aged in their teens.

The infections during the tournament came after coach Anthony Clark was absent from the opening games having contracted the virus in Australia shortly before the group's departure for the West Indies.

And the Australians were at a disadvantage before they even left for the Caribbean; closed state and international borders for most of the pandemic meant they entered the World Cup as the only full ICC member not to have played at least one game together since the previous edition of the tournament two years ago.

Players had in fact been told Australia would not be sending a team to the tournament at all – a decision New Zealand ultimately made for their U19 group – before the country's loosening of its quarantine rules for overseas arrivals prompted a rethink. 

U19 Men's matches between 2020-2022 World Cups:

Bangladesh - 14

Sri Lanka - 13 

England - 11

West Indies - 9

Ireland, Afghanistan - 8 each

India - 5

Scotland, Uganda, Pakistan, Zimbabwe - 4 each

South Africa, UAE - 3

Australia, Canada, Papua New Guinea - 0

"At one point, we weren't attending the World Cup," national talent and pathways manager Graham Manou told cricket.com.au from Antigua on Tuesday.

"We've had to leave players with staff in on different islands, we only had 11 fit players able to take the field against Scotland. They've just taken it all in their stride."

With the pandemic disrupting regular training programs, Australia's leading young cricketers have been working as hard on their mental approach to the game as their on-field skills through the 'Resilience Project' that CA has incorporated into its pathway programs.

Image Id: 640A6F21884347CF83A0ADF411DD1408 Image Caption: The Aussie U19s celebrate a wicket against West Indies // Getty

"Over the course of the last two years with everything that COVID has thrown up to them in terms of managing schooling from home, missing sport and all those social interactions as part of their development, they've certainly shown a great level of maturity here," said Manou.

"I see a different perspective in this group than I've seen perhaps previously. They're much more grateful for the opportunity – not to say that previous groups weren't – but I think missing out on things certainly makes you more grateful.

"The resilience they've shown to put everything to the side and when they go out and play, it's almost like their happy place because they're getting to do what they love.

"That night prior to the quarter-final was the first time we had every single member of our group together.

"It's amazing seeing what the group's been able to achieve while they're still trying to get to know each other as a group."

Australia's semi-final opponents India have had even more positive cases during the ongoing tournament and have been forced to fly in six reserves to keep playing.

Manou admitted some tough decisions now loomed with all 15 squad members available for the match against cricket's powerhouse nation, which has made the final of six of the previous eight U19 World Cups.

"With some of the trials and tribulations that we've faced – we're not the only team, India has had some struggles of their own as well – but the fact that they're at this point, I think we've somewhat overachieved to be honest," said Manou.

"I get a sense that they're respectfully confident in themselves, but know that India are a very good side at this age group.

"It'll be a really good battle against clearly one of the best teams in in the competition."