Nepal will rely heavily on its giant-killing abilities when it faces two-time former champion Australia and Sri Lanka in an intriguing Group C of this month’s ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup in Penang.
Nepal has beaten five Full Members at the last three ICC U/19 Cricket World Cups and finished ninth at the 2006 event, ahead of New Zealand and South Africa, both of which it defeated.
In contrast, Australia, winners in 1988 and 2002, had a disappointing sign off to its 2006 campaign when it crashed to a heavy 163-run defeat against eventual winners Pakistan in the semi-finals. Sri Lanka was also left licking its wounds in its backyard two years ago when it lost to Bangladesh by 98 runs in the fifth place play-off final.
With two places up for grabs in the Super League from a group that also includes Namibia, the second game will be crucial as Nepal will face Sri Lanka at the Penang Sports Club on 18 February. On the following day, Nepal will then go head-to-head with Australia before curtains will fall on the group matches with the feature game between Australia and Sri Lanka.
Nepal, coached by former Sri Lanka opener Roy Dias, qualified for the tournament from the Asia region after finishing unbeaten in the 10-team tournament in Kuala Lumpur. It is coming to the tournament well prepared as its boys have been together for more than four months, playing matches and training hard before winding up with a three-match series against the Bangladesh U/19 team.
With a balanced team with a right mix of experience and raw talent, Nepal hopes to leave another mark on the tournament like it did in the 2002 when it defeated Pakistan and Bangladesh before losing to Zimbabwe in the plate final and again in 2006 when it finished ahead of New Zealand and South Africa.
Key players in the team are skipper Paras Khadka, Gyanendra Malla and B.K. Rahul.
Making his third ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup appearance, Paras is greatly experienced and probably country’s best all-rounder. He is also an intelligent player and leads the team from the front.
Gyanendra is also an accomplished batsman who adapts well to match conditions while left-arm spinner Rahul, the find of the year, played in the ACC T20 Cup in Kuwait last October. For his age he showed a lot of maturity by adapting well to match conditions.
Australia’s teenagers, despite their setback in the last competition, will be fired-up to match the achievements of their senior team which completed a hat-trick of ICC Cricket World Cups in the West Indies last year.
Though Pakistan has the opportunity to make it three-in-a-row at the U/19 level, Australia also has the chance to pocket its third title. Its team is packed with talent.
From New South Wales comes Phillip Hughes, the left-handed opener who scored 752 runs at 35.81 with four fifties and one century in first-class cricket. Hughes had also scored 387 runs at 96.75 from five matches in the home series against Pakistan U/19 in Brisbane early last year.
Michael Hills is the find from the recent U/19 camp at Hobart while Kumar Sarna is a dashing opener who has enjoyed great performances at all levels that he has played. All-rounder Jeremy Smith is strong and fast with the ball and able to swing it either way.
As part of the tournament built-up, the Aussies played Pakistan on a home and away basis with contrasting results. It won the home series 3-2 but suffered a 5-0 drubbing on its return tour last October.
Australia also faced Malaysia over two games and then wrapped up a training camp with two trial games against New Zealand last month.
Sri Lanka, despite a proud record at senior level, has struggled at this level and its best performance was eight years ago when it finished runners-up to India.
This time it comes just as well prepared as its rivals. Following a squad selection in mid-October, the players took to the nets that were held four days a week under coach Roger Wijesooriya.
The young team played a tri-nation series against England and Bangladesh in July and toured Bangladesh last December for five one-day matches which it lost 3-2. Shortly before it left for Malaysia, Sri Lanka gave final touchup to its preparations by playing a tri-series where it finished runners-up to Pakistan with England being the third team.
The key players in the Sri Lankan line-up include Ashan Priyanjan, Sacith Pathirana, Tissara Perera and Roshen Silva. They have proved consistent in their performances and have gained lot in exposure and experience both locally and internationally.
Namibia, the fourth team in Group C, will arrive in Malaysia with the potential and promise to cause a few surprises.
In their build-up to the tournament, Namibia had several training camps in the later part of last year and had two more camps this year, including playing against senior clubs as warm-up matches.
The Namibian teenagers to watch are team captain Dawid Botha, Sean Silver, Raymond van Schoor and L.P.van der Westhuizen who all have played in the ICC Intercontinental Cup.
Namibia’s road to Malaysia started with the team going to Benoni, South Africa last August for the Africa U/19 Qualifier. In the first game, Namibia suffered a six-wicket
defeat to Kenya before it bounced back to beat Zambia and Ghana to finish second in its pool. In the semi-finals, Namibia defeated Uganda by nine wickets before beating Kenya by 39 runs in the final.
In the semi-finals, Namibia beat Uganda by eight wickets and then upset Kenya by 40 runs in the final to book a place in a tournament considered as cricket’s finishing school.
Group C (to be based in Penang, seeding in brackets)
Sri Lanka (6)
17 February – Australia v Namibia, Penang Sports Club (PSC)
18 February – Sri Lanka v Nepal, PSC
19 February – Australia v Nepal, University Sains Malaysia (USM)
20 February – Sri Lanka v Namibia, USM
21 February – Nepal v Namibia, PSC
22 February – Australia v Sri anka, USM
GROUP C SQUADS
Michael Hill (captain), Daniel Burns, Michael Cranmer, James Faulkner, Josh Hazlewood, Phillip Hughes, David King, Dominic O’Brien, Kirk Pascoe, James Pattinson, Clive Rose, Anant Sarna, Jeremy Smith, Steven Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Cameron Francis, Christopher Quelch.
Dawid Botha (captain), Claude Bouwer, Gert Coetzee, Morne Engelbrecht, Tiaan Louw, Elandre Oosthuizen, Bernard Scholtz, Sean Silver, Ewald Steenkamp, Keady Strauss, Louis van der Westhuizen, Izak van Niekerk, Ashley van Rooi, Raymond van Schoor, Helao Ya France.
Paras Khadka (captain), Rahul Vishwakarma, Rom Shrestha, Aakash Gupta, Antim Magar, Gyanendra Malla, Raj Shrestha, Abhaya Rana, Sagar Khadka, Amrit Bhattarai, Mahesh Chhetri, Chandra Sawad, Anil Mandal, Puspa Thapa, Subash Pradhan.
Ashan Subasinghe (captain), Sachith Pathirana, Thisara Perera, Roshane Silva, Mohamed Mazahir, Dinesh Chandimal, Dilshan Munaweera, Imesh Udayanga, Navin Kavikara, Denuwan Fernando, Ishan Jayarathne, Angelo Perera, Chatura Peiris, Umesh Karunarathna, Kusal Perera.
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