Pakistan will face stiff opposition from Bangladesh and West Indies as it looks to secure a hat-trick of titles in the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup (U19 CWC), which runs from 15 to 30 January in New Zealand.
Alongside Papua New Guinea, the three Full Member nations will be vying for two Super League spots, with the bottom two in the group left to play off in the Plate competition. Group D will be played entirely at Fitzherbert Park, Palmerston North, one of New Zealand’s most attractive provincial cricket grounds.
Pakistan is traditionally a very consistent U19 side and has two previous titles under its belt, having won this event in 2004 and 2006. The side pushed hard again in 2008 but lost in the semi-final to eventual winners, India. Pakistan is fresh from a hard-fought series victory over New Zealand in Blenheim during the build-up to the competition, coming back from an opening loss in the three match series to steal the final two matches.
Prior to touring New Zealand, Pakistan took part in a tri-nation series in Bangladesh where it lost a nail-biting final to Sri Lanka off the last ball of the match. During October, Pakistan took on Zimbabwe away from home and blew the African side off the park, winning 5-1 in the six-match series.
Rameez Aziz looks like a dangerous middle-order player, scoring two half-centuries against New Zealand, while his 82 not out in the second match in Blenheim proved his worth as he scored under pressure. Skipper Azeem Ghumman was the form player during the series with Zimbabwe, scoring three half-centuries in six innings including a top score of 66.
Pakistan brings a strong spin attack to the tournament, led by 16-year-old leggie Usman Qadir, the son of Pakistan spin legend Abdul Qadir. Left-arm spinner Raza Hasan and leg-spinning all rounder Ahmad Shahzad, who has already played full ODIs for Pakistan, also look set to trouble opposition batsmen.
Bangladesh is perhaps the most well-prepared under-19 side coming to the U19 CWC. With a strong track record of international matches already behind it, the side should be well placed to compete in U19 CWC 2010. However, despite strong performances outside of the U19 CWC, the side has yet to deliver a championship win. It has twice lost in the quarter-finals, as in 2006 to England and 2008 to South Africa. Bangladesh’s best finish was fifth in 2006 after beating Pakistan and New Zealand in pool play and then the West Indies and Sri Lanka in the play-offs.
Bangladesh has been busy in the lead-up to the tournament with a tri-nation series against Sri Lanka and South Africa, a one-day series against Zimbabwe, home and away contests with England, and perhaps its greatest feat, a 4-1 series win over Sri Lanka in May 2009. Amit Majumder will have to score the bulk of the runs if Bangladesh is to make it through to the second round, and with a couple of centuries against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in one-dayers he has shown his capabilities. Right-arm seamer Abul Hasan was the standout bowler in the series against Zimbabwe, taking 14 wickets at an average of just less than nine.
The West Indies has been playing in the domestic Presidents Cup alongside regional teams where it struggled to compete with these men’s teams, failing to win a match and with only one of their batsmen passing 50. However, match practice against men will surely put the West Indies in good stead to face the best players in their age group, although the side will have to rely on individual brilliance to get them through.
Kraigg Braithwaite of Barbardos is the shining light with the bat, scoring 73 on first-class debut at the age of 16. He was called into the West Indies Test squad last year against Bangladesh and isn’t too far away from making his full international debut. He holds a national contract and will be a vital part of this team’s 2010 U19 CWC campaign.
West Indies will look for their skipper, Andre Creary, to lead from the front with middle-order runs and some tidy off-spin. Creary made his first-class debut for West Indies A against the touring Bangladesh team mid-way through last year and his experience will be vital to his inexperienced side.
Papua New Guinea makes its fifth visit to the U19 CWC after finishing third in the global qualifying tournament in Toronto in 2009. The side beat fellow qualifying teams Hong Kong, Canada and USA, losing only to winners Ireland and second-placed Afghanistan. In the 2008 event, Papua New Guinea recorded its first win in the U19 CWC, defeating Bermuda by seven wickets, and with former Australian fast bowler Andy Bichel on board as coach, it will be hoping to register a second win, although it may have to wait until the second round to do so.
Left-handed bat Henry Siaka is the team’s top performing batsmen and he took the responsibility on board at the global qualifier by scoring 277 runs with a best of 103 against the Netherlands. Wicketkeeper Steven Eno picked up 11 catches and two stumpings during the qualifier and proved extremely hard to dismiss with five not outs in eight innings, scoring 173 runs at an average of just under 58.
Medium-pacer John Reva heads the bowling line-up and his side will be looking for similar performances to the 7-34 he took against the USA in Toronto, completing the tournament with 15 scalps at just over 14 runs per wicket.
Group D squads
Pakistan: Azeem Ghumman (captain), Ahmad Shahzad, Ahsan Ali, Anop Ravi, Fayyaz Butt, Hammad Azam, Kaleem Sana, Muhammad Babar Azam, Muhammad Naeem, Muhammad Waqas, Rameez Aziz, Raza Hassan, Sarmad Bhatti, Shahzaib Ahmed, Usman Qadir.
Bangladesh: Mahmudul Hasan (captain), Alauddin Babu, Amit Majumder, Anamul Haque, Arman Badsha, Hasan Raju, Kamrul Islam, Muminul Hoque Showrav, Nur Hossain, Nurul Hasan, Saikat Ali, Shabbir Rahman, Shaker Ahmed, Soumya Sarkar, Tasamul Hoque.
West Indies: Andre Creary (captain), Jermaine Blackwood, Nelson Bolan, Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Yannic Cariah, Akeem Dewar, Shane Dowrich, Nicholson Gordon, Trevon Griffiths, Jason Holder, Keon Joseph, Evin Lewis, Yannick Ottley, Jomel Warrican.
Papua New Guinea: Jason Kila (captain), Charles Amini, Sese Bau, Jonathan Diho, Raymond Haoda, Steven Eno, Timothy Mou, Vagi Oala, John Reva, Rogeauka Roge, Heni Siaka, Lega Siaka, Lega Tau, Toua Tom, Tony Ura.
Group C fixtures (Fitzherbert Park, Palmerston North)
Friday 15 January: Pakistan v West Indies
Saturday 16 January: Bangladesh v Papua New Guinea
Sunday 17 January: Bangladesh v West Indies
Monday 18 January: Pakistan v Papua New Guinea
Tuesday 19 January: West Indies v Papua New Guinea
Wednesday 20 January: Pakistan v Bangladesh