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How Konstas’ rare traits helped take Aussies to final four

Young gun Sam Konstas is backing his mental skills to help him succeed at the pointy end of the Under-19 World Cup

Even as Australia's Under-19s neared a semi-final berth at the World Cup amid a run that has seen the tight-knit team lose just three times over the past year, Sam Konstas knew he had more to offer.

Konstas had gone into Australia's match against West Indies last week fresh off a third-ball duck against rivals England and holding a tournament average of 17.

That he responded with a clutch 108 when a quick kill for the Windies looked in the offing after Australia had slumped to 5-87, lifting his side to 8-227 to confirm their spot in the final four, underlined several unusual traits for an 18-year-old.  

In fact, of the 15 teenagers that had arrived in South Africa weeks earlier aiming to become the first Australian side to lift the U19 men’s trophy since the 2010 Mitch Marsh-captained side, Konstas stood out in several ways.

Sam Konstas cuts during his U19 World Cup century against West Indies // ICC-Getty

For a start, he reckons he is the only one who has no social media presence.

"I don't want to get distracted," Konstas told cricket.com.au from Benoni ahead of Australia's semi-final against Pakistan on Thursday (7pm AEDT on Prime Video).

"I don't really need it – I just try to live in the moment and not be glued to my phone."

A further distinguishing factor for Konstas is that he is the only Australian to have entered this year's biennial event with a first-class match to his name.

In November, NSW head coach Greg Shipperd telephoned him only a month after he had turned 18 and just hours after he had finished his Year 12 English exam to tell him he was to make his Sheffield Shield debut.

"It was quite crazy. I thought my mate was prank calling me. I didn't believe it," Konstas said of the call that preceded his first match at the SCG where he scored 10 and 23 from No.3 in a 74-run win over Tasmania.

It is easy to see how the expectation that came with Konstas' pedigree could have made his early-tournament struggles difficult to overcome.

As a batting prodigy whose all-time run-scoring record in NSW's U16 Green Shield vaulted him from Cranbrook schoolboy star to a prolific first-grade season and then into the Blues' senior men’s team, Konstas has had few setbacks along his cricketing journey to draw upon.

So the most important factor in him pulling off an innings that sealed Australia's top-four berth was another Konstas peculiarity; his close relationship with Shane Watson.

Watson, who Konstas first came across in the nets at a suburban oval in Sydney, has taken on a significant mentorship role with the emerging batter and sponsored him through his T20 Stars equipment company.

The former Test allrounder's facilitation of Konstas' Premier club switch from St George to Sutherland (Watson's former side) before the 2022-23 season saw him win a regular spot in a Premier Cricket first XI, a prerequisite for his Cranbrook cricket scholarship if he wanted to miss school matches to play senior cricket instead.

Sam Konstas receives his NSW cap from Shane Watson in November 2023 // Getty

Scoring over 1,000 runs in his first season at Sutherland (including a pair of first-grade tons) fast-tracked the right-hander's development, with his form continuing during last year's winter U19s Ashes tour of England where an unbeaten 105 in Beckenham further underlined his ability.

But it has been Watson's imparting of his mental skills framework that has had the biggest impact on Konstas and which he credits as the main factor in last week’s hundred.

"I didn't get off to the best start," he said of his U19 World Cup campaign.

"But the thing that 'Watto' has taught me is to keep believing my skills and backing it, (remembering that) I've done it before.

"I was lucky enough to score some runs against West Indies, which was very rewarding, and hopefully I have some good momentum for the semi-final against Pakistan.

"(In the past) I would have probably overcomplicated things."

How Watson sung his way to SCG T20 century

Konstas has read Watson's recent book, Winning the Inner Battle, and applied aspects to his own approach to batting. 

"His book is great because I don't think we tap into the mental stuff enough, especially at our age," he said.

"To be working with him, understanding what my process is, controlling my conscious mind and unconscious mind, and trusting my gut feel has made a big difference to the way I play and the way I see the game, and then review it.

"When I was a bit younger, I was a bit like, 'this (cricket) is the be all and end all'. After he mentored me, I have a more relaxed approach and trust the process, not the outcome, which has been a big mantra."

Konstas will need to trust his process again if he can overcome Pakistan's impressive fast bowlers on a surface Australia expect to be more pace-friendly than their previous games.

A date with reigning champions India, who toppled tournament hosts South Africa on Tuesday evening, awaits the winner.

"We've got a very tight bond and culture amongst the boys," Konstas said of a squad that played both home and away series against England last year before assembling for the World Cup.

"We got to know each other to different levels and understanding each other's game on and off the field.

"That's the beauty of our team – we're so close together and we love spending time with each other.

"We haven't had that complete performance yet as a team. We haven't played our best cricket, which is dangerous for the other teams.

"Hopefully we can showcase that in the semi-final."

Australia's Under 19 World Cup 2024 fixtures

Jan 22: Australia beat Namibia by four wickets

Jan 25: Australia beat Zimbabwe by 225 runs

Jan 28: Australia beat Sri Lanka by six wickets

Jan 31: Australia beat England by 110 runs (DLS)

Feb 2: No result v West Indies

Feb 8: Second semi-final, Australia v Pakistan, Benoni, 7pm AEDT, Prime Video

Feb 11: Final, Benoni, 7pm AEDT, Prime Video

Full tournament fixtures can be found here

Australia squad: Lachlan Aitken, Charlie Anderson, Harkirat Bajwa, Mahli Beardman, Tom Campbell, Harry Dixon, Ryan Hicks, Sam Konstas, Rafael MacMillan, Aidan O’Connor, Oliver Peake, Harjas Singh, Tom Straker, Callum Vidler, Hugh Weibgen

Men's U19 World Cup standings

Round 2

Super Six AD

Team
Matches played
M
Wins
W
Losses
L
Ties
T
No results
N/R
Deductions
Ded.
Total points
PTS
1 India U19 Men India U19 Men IND 4 4 0 0 0 0 8
2 Pakistan U19 Men Pakistan U19 Men PAK 4 4 0 0 0 0 8
3 Bangladesh U19 Men Bangladesh U19 Men BAN 4 2 2 0 0 0 4
4 Ireland U19 Men Ireland U19 Men IRE 4 1 3 0 0 0 2
5 New Zealand U19 Men New Zealand U19 Men NZ 4 1 3 0 0 0 2
6 Nepal U19 Men Nepal U19 Men NEP 4 0 4 0 0 0 0

M: Matches played

W: Wins

L: Losses

T: Ties

N/R: No results

Ded.: Deductions

PTS: Total points

Super Six BC

Team
Matches played
M
Wins
W
Losses
L
Ties
T
No results
N/R
Deductions
Ded.
Total points
PTS
1 Australia U19 Men Australia U19 Men AUS 4 3 0 0 1 0 7
2 South Africa U19 Men South Africa U19 Men SA 4 3 1 0 0 0 6
3 West Indies U19 Men West Indies U19 Men WI 4 2 1 0 1 0 5
4 England U19 Men England U19 Men ENG 4 2 2 0 0 0 4
5 Sri Lanka U19 Men Sri Lanka U19 Men SL 4 1 3 0 0 0 2
6 Zimbabwe U19 Men Zimbabwe U19 Men ZIM 4 0 4 0 0 0 0

M: Matches played

W: Wins

L: Losses

T: Ties

N/R: No results

Ded.: Deductions

PTS: Total points

Round 1

Group A

Team
Matches played
M
Wins
W
Losses
L
Ties
T
No results
N/R
Deductions
Ded.
Total points
PTS
1 USA U19 Men USA U19 Men USA 3 0 3 0 0 0 0

M: Matches played

W: Wins

L: Losses

T: Ties

N/R: No results

Ded.: Deductions

PTS: Total points

Group B

Team
Matches played
M
Wins
W
Losses
L
Ties
T
No results
N/R
Deductions
Ded.
Total points
PTS
1 Scotland U19 Men Scotland U19 Men SCO 3 0 3 0 0 0 0

M: Matches played

W: Wins

L: Losses

T: Ties

N/R: No results

Ded.: Deductions

PTS: Total points

Group C

Team
Matches played
M
Wins
W
Losses
L
Ties
T
No results
N/R
Deductions
Ded.
Total points
PTS
1 Namibia U19 Men Namibia U19 Men NAM 3 0 3 0 0 0 0

M: Matches played

W: Wins

L: Losses

T: Ties

N/R: No results

Ded.: Deductions

PTS: Total points

Group D

Team
Matches played
M
Wins
W
Losses
L
Ties
T
No results
N/R
Deductions
Ded.
Total points
PTS
1 Afghanistan U19 Men Afghanistan U19 Men AFG 3 0 3 0 0 0 0

M: Matches played

W: Wins

L: Losses

T: Ties

N/R: No results

Ded.: Deductions

PTS: Total points