Former champion India and New Zealand aim to progress from Group D
Three-time champion India and New Zealand are favoured to take the top two positions in Group D ahead of Ireland and Nepal when the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup 2016 is played in Bangladesh from 27 January to 14 February.
The biennial 16-nation tournament features nine Test-playing nations and seven Associate and Affiliate Members - Afghanistan, Canada, Fiji, Namibia, Nepal, Ireland and Scotland.
Teams have been divided into four groups with the top two in each advancing to the Super League quarter-finals and the other two qualifying for the Plate Championships.
India, coached by batting great Rahul Dravid, features high among the top contenders to bag the trophy which it has previously won in 2000, 2008 and 2012. India failed to defend the title two years ago in the United Arab Emirates after England stunned it in the quarter-finals.
India arrived in Bangladesh on Wednesday with a power-packed batting line-up that includes Sarfaraz Khan, one of the country’s brightest young batsmen who turns out for Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League.
Sarfaraz joins Ricky Bhui and Avesh Khan for their second appearance in the premier age-group tournament, having also participated in 2014. Another batsman that will be noticed in Bangladesh is Armaan Jaffer, nephew of former Indian opener Wasim Jaffer.
Both Sarfaraz and Armaan made their mark in schools’ cricket in Mumbai when the stocky Sarfaraz hit 439 in a Harris Shield match and Armaan topped that with scores of 498 and 473 a year later.
India coach Rahul Dravid: “Ours is a decent side with a lot of promising players”
Dravid, who retired from international cricket in 2012 with more than 10,000 runs in both Test and one-day cricket, gave up his lucrative television commitments last year to take up the challenging job of coaching both the India A and under-19 squads.
Under his guidance, India’s teenagers have won a tri-series in Sri Lanka before Christmas last year that also featured England and defeated both Afghanistan and Bangladesh at home in November.
“Ours is a decent side with a lot of promising players,” Dravid said. “The conditions in Bangladesh will be quite similar to what the boys have grown up on in India, so that should be beneficial to the side.”
India will be captained by Ishan Kishan, a left-handed batsman and wicketkeeper, who hails from World Cup-winning captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s home state of Jharkhand.
New Zealand captain Josh Finnie: “Everyone’s excited and itching to get involved”
New Zealand captain Josh Finnie also featured in the 2014 event where his side finished 10th, but he is confident of a better show this time.
New Zealand warmed up for the tournament by playing a tri-series against Australia and Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates which concluded on Tuesday. New Zealand won two matches and lost once each to Australia and Pakistan.
“The experience of playing in Dubai and being part of the tournament will hopefully help out in this month’s campaign,” Finnie said. “The players we’re taking over are a really talented group, including a couple of guys who have played first-class cricket.”
Finnie said his team will be inspired by the fearless brand of cricket New Zealand’s senior team has played in recent times under Brendon McCullum which enabled the Black Caps to feature in its first-ever ICC Cricket World Cup final in Melbourne last year.
“The Black Caps’ brand of cricket has been a great example of playing with positive intent and representing New Zealand in the best possible way,” said Finnie. “I think all cricketers growing up in New Zealand have seen that and we’ll endeavor to make that a big part of our game as well.”
Nepal captain Raju Rijal: “We have to improve to beat other teams”
Nepal, which last played in the ICC U19 World Cup in 2012, returns to the event by winning the qualifying tournament in Kuala Lumpur. As many as 12 players who helped Nepal qualify are part of the squad that will play in Bangladesh.
Skipper Raju Rijal said having the same set of players will benefit his team.
“It is certainly a plus point for us to have that experience within the team and it helps to create togetherness as well,” Rijal said.
“But the World Cup will be different from the qualifiers. We have to improve in every aspect of the game if we are to beat other teams in the tournament.”
Nepal will need to finish among the top two in the Group to have a chance to emulate its eighth-place finish in 2000.
Ireland will take part in its eighth ICC U19 Cricket World Cup after missing out two years ago.
That the tournament is a stepping stone for senior cricket can be gauged from the fact that the Irish team that played in Bangladesh in 2004 produced seven international players, including captain William Porterfield and Kevin O’Brien. England’s ODI captain, Eoin Morgan, also played for Ireland in the 2004 tournament.