U-19 CWC: Like India, Australia too had struggled to field 11 fit players due to COVID

The Australian Under-19 team management was finding it difficult to field 11 fit players in the U-19 ICC Cricket World Cup matches due to several COVID-positive cases emerging in the side, according to Australia’s national talent and pathways manager, Graham Manou, on Tuesday.

Ahead of the semifinal clash against India at the Coolidge Cricket Ground on Wednesday, Manou added that the situation was such before the quarterfinal match against Pakistan that the Australian squad members were stationed in three different islands in the Caribbean.

“At one point, we weren’t attending the World Cup,” Manou told cricket.com.au. “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.”

Manou said that the last two years had thrown several challenges at the team, with the boys having to manage the schooling from home and missing sports due to restrictions on social interactions.

“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.

However, despite all the challenges the young side has made it to the World Cup semifinalis and is looking forward to face India, who too were in a similar situation after five of their players too tested COVID-positive earlier on in the tournament.

For the first time in this tournament, Australia will have the luxury to pick a playing XI from a full squad. At one stage before their quarterfinal win over Pakistan, Australia’s “15-member squad was split between three different countries after five players contracted the virus at various stages during the tournament in the Caribbean,” the report said.

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, the report said.

Isaac Higgins then tested positive following the game against Scotland, leaving Australia with only 11 fit players to choose from. While Higgins remained in St Kitts, the rest of the squad flew to Antigua for their quarterfinal against Pakistan.

To add to their woes, Cricket Australia (CA) staff also remained behind with the affected players to care for the mostly teenage players.

In fact, the team’s participation in the tournament was itself in doubt with players being told Australia will not send a team, before the country eased its quarantine rules a bit.

“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,” added Manou.

“That night prior to the quarterfinal 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.”

Manou said that the management will have to take some tough calls, now that entire 15-member squad was available for selection for the semifinal.

“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.”