B Arun, the former medium-pace bowler who represented India in two Tests in the 1980s, is the coach of the Under-19 team that has just won the World Cup. Speaking to Wisden India from Townsville, Arun credited the temperament of the boys and Unmukt Chand's ability, while being captain, to score big in crunch clashes for the win. Excerpts:
Congratulations on a mission well accomplished. Tell us about the win and the team's initial reaction to it?
When you win the World Cup, you feel on top of the world. That's what the boys are feeling now, and that's what all of us are feeling right now. We have been celebrating non-stop. It's outstanding. It's especially special because we have been planning this for a year now. We have had more or less the same group of boys for this period and we had a mission in mind, and now we have achieved it. Everything fell into place perfectly. I am at a bit of a loss to describe the feeling.
Talk us through the win in the final, Arun. At 97 for four, chasing 226, there must have been a few nerves out there.
It was a belter of a track, very good for batsmen, though there was a bit of bounce on offer. Our bowlers have been brilliant right through the tournament, and when they got the four early wickets [Australia were 38 for four after 11.2 overs], it put the brakes on Australia. We knew 225 was a decent total, but also that we needed just two good partnerships to cross it. The partnership between Unmukt (Chand) and Smit (Patel) was brilliant, and the innings (Baba) Aparajith played to start with was a gem (33 from 38 balls). Once Unmukt and Smit settled down, we were always in the driver's seat.
Tell us a bit about Unmukt. He is the best-known batsman in the team but had scored just 135 runs in the tournament before the final. Really rose to the occasion, didn't he?
Exactly. But that's Unmukt. He scored centuries in the final of the Quadrangular Trophy in Australia in April and then in the Asia Cup final against Pakistan in July. This is the third final where Unmukt has scored a century and taken India to a win, and that speaks volumes of his temperament. There was never any doubt about his talent anyway, it's just that he was getting starts but not playing long innings. But when he did, he made it count. He played a magnificent knock in the final.
Is it wrong to say that the World Cup was won on the back of the performances of the bowlers, because most of our games have been low-scoring?
The final was the first time a team crossed 200 against us. We got breakthroughs early and then picked up wickets at regular intervals right throughout the tournament. Not just wickets, we kept things tight and the bowlers, without exception, bowled the right areas.
Sandeep Sharma, Kamal Passi and Ravikant Singh, the three medium pacers ... it must have helped that you, a pace bowler yourself, were in charge of the team?
I won't say that. I don't think I am partial to the fast bowlers at all, but yes, that's my expertise as a cricketer, so maybe the fast bowlers benefitted more from having me around than the others. But then, it's not just the fast bowlers who did well. Harmeet Singh (the left-arm spinner) was outstanding. It would be unfair if we didn't give him credit for keeping things tight in the middle overs. He picked up just six wickets, but his economy rate for the tournament is around three an over (3.02). Everyone did well. Everyone played his role well.
Tell us about regrouping as a unit after losing the opening match to West Indies.
When we lost the first game, we knew that we lost because we were defending only 167. But we took the positive from that, which is that they struggled to reach the target and achieved it only in the 49th over. That convinced us that our bowling was fine, but we needed a little consistency with the bat. We accepted the loss and focussed on our batting. A loss or two will happen, so it served as a wake-up call.
And then there was the game against Pakistan. That got really close, and the opponents being Pakistan, it must have been a game of nerves more than anything else?
Pakistan games are always high-pressure matches. But we had played them in the Asia Cup just over a month ago and had tied the final. So we knew what their team could do. We had our plans. We approached the game like we approach any other. The idea was the stick to our plans and enjoy ourselves. It did get very close, but credit to the temperament of the boys that we made it. Handling pressure is the key, and the boys will realise that more and more as they become older. I am very happy with what they showed in the World Cup. Self-belief and controlled aggression defines these boys, and I am proud to be the coach of the team.