Former champions England and Bangladesh start off as clear favourites to progress to the Super League stage of this month’s ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup (U/19 CWC) from a group that also includes qualifiers Ireland and Bermuda, either of whom could provide a shock or two along the way.
England won the tournament under the captaincy of Owais Shah in 1998 while Bangladesh has produced stellar performances at this level, including its win over host Sri Lanka in the fifth-place play-off two years ago and an eight-run victory over then defending champion Australia in the Plate Championship final in the 2004 competition.
Ireland qualified for this tournament from the Europe Region after defeating Scotland by six wickets in the final while Bermuda won the five-team round-robin Americas qualifier and defeated Canada, Caymans Island, Bahamas and Argentina on the way for what is its maiden appearance in a U/19 CWC.
The four teams will be based in Kuala Lumpur and on the opening day, 17 February, England will take on neighbour Ireland at the Bayuemas Oval. What could be the feature match of Group D will be played on 22 February between England and Bangladesh, and if all goes according to seeding, that will decide which team tops the group.
But let’s not forget that two years ago in Colombo, Ireland pushed England right to the wire, eventually losing by just four runs in a match it should really have won. No doubt captain Greg Thompson – who played in that game – and his men will be looking forward to going one step better this time.
But England has a good overall record in the U/19 CWC. Besides winning the title in 1998, England has appeared in three semi-finals in 1988, 2004 and 2006 while it reached the Super League in 2000 and 2002.
The side has experienced some indifferent form in the past year, including a 3-1 series loss in the summer of 2007 to Pakistan. It also finished third in Colombo last month in a tri-series that also involved Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
But the team will have gained invaluable experience of playing in Malaysian conditions having toured there last year, where they played a series against the hosts, Sri Lanka and India.
Alex Wakely, who made his first-class debut for Northamptonshire last year, scoring 38 and 66 on debut against Somerset, is hopeful that his side will be able to turn around its form and achieve some real success.
He said: “My ultimate goal and realistic goal is to captain the team to World Cup glory. The team behind me is one of incredible talent and desire.”
Key batsmen for England will include Billy Godleman, who scored an unbeaten 149 against Pakistan under-19 last English summer, and Kent’s Sam Northeast.
On the bowling front, much will be expected from 6ft 8in Steven Finn, who at just 16 became the youngest player since Fred Titmus in 1949 to make his county debut for Middlesex, and who spent the latter part of 2007 in India with the England Performance Programme squad.
Glamorgan’s James Harris, who became the first 17-year-old to take a seven-wicket haul in the County Championship, will probably share the new-ball duties with Finn, while the likes of Chris Woakes and Liam Dawson may also fill a useful role with the ball.
Bangladesh has proved to be one of the teams to watch at the recent event and it will be hoping this talented squad may be the team that can take it further than ever in this competition.
Bangladesh has shown some good form in the build-up to the event and displayed its strength of character, as well as cricketing ability, when it came back from 2-0 down to enjoy a shock 3-2 series win over Pakistan.
Although it was triumphant over South Africa under-19 in the recent triangular tournament in Pretoria in January, it was crushed by a strong India under-19 by 137 runs in the final.
Throughout the tour, the team struggled for runs, with Mahmudul Hasan and Nasir Hossain the only players to register half centuries, while Hasan was also the leading wicket-taker.
The side will be captained by Soharwardi Shuvo, the left-arm spinner who has already taken an impressive 69 wickets in 15 first-class matches.
Ireland will be hoping to match the exploits of its senior team at the ICC Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean last year and make it through to the Super League just as Trent Johnston and his men got through to the Super Eight stage in the West Indies.
Leg-spinner Thompson, who is appearing at his third U/19 CWC, will be a key player for the side and will look to use his experience of senior international cricket to boost his side’s efforts.
Opening bowlers Gavin McKenna and Richard Keaveney, along with top order bat and off-spin bowler James Hall, were also in the Ireland squad two years ago.
Ireland coach Brían O’Rourke is happy with the composition of his squad. He said: “The players have been working hard in training and are eagerly awaiting the start of the tournament. The squad has a good blend of youth and experience, with four having played in Sri Lanka in 2006 and no fewer than seven players will still be eligible in two years’ time.”
The next generation of Bermuda cricketers will be going all out to make their marks on the global stage and assure those back home that cricket on the island is in good hands.
The team played in the first half of the country’s Premier Division League and finished with a record of three wins and five defeats. It also appeared in the Sir Garfield Sobers Tournament in July 2007 and finished with a 6-2 winning record.
The side, which has been training five times a week in preparation for the event, is coached by Arnold Manders, who is director of cricket development for the Bermuda Cricket Board.
Manders said: “The key players for our team are those who have already played for the senior team – Rodney Trott, Malachi Jones, Tamauri Tucker and Chris Douglas.
“With the exception of Tamauri, the rest are all genuine all-rounders and the bulk of our runs and wickets will most likely come from them.
“These players are the catalyst of our team and how we progress in the tournament will depend heavily on how successful they are. The younger players will be looking for guidance and support from them as well.”
Group D (to be based in Kuala Lumpur, seeding in brackets)
17 February – England v Ireland, Bayuemas Oval
18 February – Bangladesh v Bermuda, Bayuemas Oval
19 February – England v Bermuda, Royal Selangor Club
20 February – Bangladesh v Ireland, Bayuemas Oval
21 February – Bermuda v Ireland, Royal Selangor Club
22 February – England v Bangladesh, Royal Selangor Club
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