Defending champion Pakistan faces the first real test in its bid to complete a hat-trick of ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup titles when it goes head-to-head with 1998 finalists New Zealand in the feature match in Group A on 19 February at the Johor Cricket Academy in Johor.
In the build-up to the tournament, Pakistan has shown it has the talent, tenacity and firepower to make history in this tournament. It won a tri-nations series in Colombo, Sri Lanka last week beating both the host and England along the way.
However, performance in the competition proper is what counts and after Pakistan opens its bid against Malaysia on the opening day on 17 February, it locks horns against what is possibly a much tougher opponent in the form of the junior Black Caps.
Pakistan can take inspiration from its previous encounters against New Zealand in the 2004 and 2006 tournaments when it won both games by eight wickets and then went on to lift the trophy.
Pakistan is a well-balanced all-round side, captained by Imad Waseem, a left-arm spinner, attacking batsman and good close-in fielder. He was also a member of its last ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup-winning side.
One of the players to watch is Umar Akmal, younger brother of Kamran, the senior team wicketkeeper. The younger Akmal enjoyed an outstanding season in first-class cricket scoring 851 runs during the season at an outstanding strike-rate. Ahmad Shezhad, an attacking opening bat, will be a threat to any opposition attack. He scored 315 runs, at an average of 105.00, including a top score of 115, in a home series against Australia under-19s last October.
On the bowling front, fast bowler Adil Raza who took four wickets in the series against Australia under-19s and eight wickets in the Bangladesh series, is likely to be one of the leading attackers, while Mohammad Rameez can swing the new ball both ways.
New Zealand was runner-up to champion England in 1998 when the tournament was relaunched in South Africa after a 10-year absence as a biennial event. The team has high hopes and will be doing its utmost to make the most of the talent the team collectively possesses.
Built around the experience of first-class players in Corey Anderson, Greg Morgan, Tim Southee, Kane Williamson and George Worker, the Kiwis can come through the tournament with shining colours.
In some ways, these teenage players mirror the senior side with a buoyant team spirit, good work ethic and a desire to compete. The players are looking forward to learning from playing in different conditions and experiencing a change in culture.
New Zealand’s bowling attack will be spearheaded by fast bowler Southee who may well make his ODI debut against England in the forthcoming series.
New Zealand will be targeting an improved performance from the 2006 event when it failed to reach the Super League section. And although it managed to make it through to the final of the Plate Championship, it was edged out by just one wicket to Nepal in a thrilling match.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe and host Malaysia are the other two teams in the group with the top two sides qualifying for the Super League stage. The winner of the group will meet runners-up of Group D that comprises England, Bangladesh, Bermuda and Ireland while the runner-up of Group A will face the winner of Group D.
Zimbabwe will be hoping to repeat its outstanding start to the 2006 tournament when it recorded victories in all three of its group matches, including a brilliant two-wicket win over England. And although it didn’t win another game in the tournament, it would be looking to use that good early showing as a springboard to greater things this time around.
Much will be expected of skipper Prince Masvaure, a gifted batsman who can also swing a ball be it old or new. Masvaure made one appearance at the 2006 event but has since gone on to play regular first-class cricket and be named in the Zimbabwe A squad.
Other key players to watch will be Solomon Mire, a talented all-rounder, who has a highest List A match score of 94 and has been playing senior domestic cricket in Zimbabwe for the past year. Also, keep an eye on Justin Gaisford, a highly regarded wicketkeeper-batsman.
Host Malaysia goes into the tournament aiming to prove that, despite the quality of the opposition, it still has plenty to offer at this level.
In its build-up for the tournament, the Malaysians enjoyed a month-long tour of Bangladesh. In that time, it played a challenging schedule that included 16 matches while also taking part in a quadrangular series last month and finishing off with matches against Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Essentially, the team is built around proven performers. Expect most of the runs to come from Ahmad Faiz, captain Mohamed Noor, Faris Almas-Lee Rosmanizam, wicketkeeper Shafiq Sharif, Aminuddin Ramly, Faizal Abu Hassan and Suharril Fetri Shuib. Meanwhile, much is expected of spin duo 16-year-old Nik Azril Arifi and Shahruinzam Yusof as well as medium-pacer Sarath Ananthasivam.
GROUP A (based in Johor, seeding in brackets)
New Zealand (9)
17 February – Pakistan v Malaysia, Johor Cricket Academy (JCA)
18 February – Zimbabwe v New Zealand, JCA
19 February – Pakistan v New Zealand, Maktab Perguruan Temenggong Ibrahim (MPTI), Johor
20 February – Malaysia v Zimbabwe, MPTI, Johor
21 February – New Zealand v Malaysia, KCA, Johor
22 February – Pakistan v Zimbabwe, MPTI, Johor
GROUP A SQUADS
Imad Wasim (captain), Umar Amin, Ali Asad, Shahzaib Ahmed Khan, Ahmad Shahzad, Muhammad Amir, Muhammad Azhar Attari, Usman Salah-ud-Din, Muhammad Junaid Khan, Umair Mir, Umar Akmal, Muhammad Rameez, Shaan Khan, Mirza Ahsan, Adil Raza.
Prince Masvaure (captain), Tinashe Chimbambo, Tendai Chitongo, Hughes Dinembira, Justin Gaisford, Kyle Jarvis, Edzai Jaure, Daniel Landman, Stewart Matsika, Solomon Mire, Peter Moor, Confidence Mutombodzi, Njabulo Ncube, Reginald Nehonde, Tendai Mashonganyika.
Corey Anderson, Nicholas Beard, Harry Boam, Trent Boult, Michael Bracewell, Tamati Clarke, Fraser Colson, Michael Guptill-Bunce, Greg Morgan, Jeet Raval, Hamish Rutherford, Timothy Southee, Anurag Verma, Kane Williamson, George Worker.
Ahmad Faiz (captain), Aminudin Ramly, Faris Rosmanizam, Mohamad Fauzi, Mohamad Norwira, Mohammed Miran, Mohammad Kasman, Mohammad Shafiq, Mohammad Shahrulnizam, Mohammad Suharril Fetri, Muhamad Nik Azril, Muhammad Faizal, Sarath Ananthasivam, Shahid Aslan, Sarvana Raj.
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