India’s preparations for the age-group showpiece were impacted heavily by the virus, with hardly any national camps or tournaments in the last two years except the recent Asia Cup.
The four-time champions started the tournament on the right note, overcoming a good South Africa side by 45 runs, but soon ran into a situation where they were struggling to field a playing XI after multiple players were found to have contracted Covid-19 hours before their match against Ireland.
Five members of the squad were unavailable for their second group clash, against Ireland on January 19 after a Covid outbreak.
Captain Yash Dhull, his deputy Shaik Rasheed, Aaradhya Yadav, Manav Parakh and Siddarth Yadav were part of that group and missed both the Ireland and Uganda fixtures, forcing the BCCI to fly in reinforcements.
India were without many players for their match with Uganda and had to call in six reserves to play with the non-infected members of their squad.
But a spirited India got the better of all the challenges thrown at them and soundly defeated Ireland and Uganda before prevailing over Bangladesh by five wickets in a tricky chase in their quarterfinal match on a surface that was not conducive for playing strokes.
India are now back to full strength and in another good news, Nishant Sindhu has recovered from COVID-19 and will be available for selection for the all-important semifinal.
But if the match against Bangladesh was any indication, India would like to improve their finishing with bat.
However, before that, despite missing many first XI players, India put up huge totals against Ireland (307/5) and Uganda (405/), and registered their biggest ever victory terms of runs against the African team.
Now up against a formidable Australian side, India will take confidence from the fact that they made the semifinals with wins on the trot despite the challenges posed the virus.
This is the fourth time in a row that India will be appearing in the last-four stage of the competition.
India have a strong batting presence with the likes of Harnoor Singh, Angkrish Raghuvanshi and Raj Bawa, who broke Shikhar Dhawan’s record for the highest individual score by an Indian batter at the U-19 World Cup with his 162 not out against Uganda, shouldering the responsibility, besides skipper Dhull and Rasheed.
In fact, it was Dhull who set the tone for the team with his soild 82 against South Africa in their tournament opener.
The bowling department is taken care of by left-arm pacer Ravi Kumar, who wreaked havoc in a five-over spell to leave Bangladesh struggling at 14/3, right-arm seamer Rajvardhan Hangargekar, spinners Vicky Ostwal and Kaushal Tambe, besides medium pacer Bawa.
As far as Australia are concerned, the two-time champions will be on a high after their convincing win over Pakistan in the quarters.
Australia have a superstar in the making in opener Teague Wyllie.
The 17-year-old has been one of the stars of the World Cup so far, showcasing his impressive array of shots and an attacking yet controlled temperament. And the Western Australian youngster has no shortage of self-confidence either, making him an all-round package with every chance of making it in the international game.
Wyllie was at his fluent best against Pakistan, helping his side get off to a terrific start as he stroked eight fours in an impressive 97-ball 71 India will be wary of him.
Tom Whitney (2/31) and William Salzmann (3/37) were the stand-out performers with the ball against Pakistan, and there’s hardly any obvious weak link for India to exploit.
India had beaten Australia in the warm-up game.
India (likely XI): Yash Dhull (c), Angkrish Raghuvanshi, Harnoor Singh, Raj Bawa, Kaushal Tambe, Dinesh Bana, Nishant Sindhu, Vicky Ostwal, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, Vasu Vats and Ravi Kumar.
Australia (likely XI): Cooper Connolly (c), Campbell Kellaway, Teague Wyllie, Aidan Cahill, Corey Miller, Jack Sinfield, Tobias Snell, William Salzmann, Jack Nisbet, Lachlan Shaw and Tom Whitney