Three-time former champion Australia, Bangladesh and Namibia are the other sides in the group
Afghanistan will be the dark horse in Group B of the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup 2014 which will be staged across the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from 14 February to 1 March.
The group also includes three-time former champion and title contender Australia while the other two sides are Bangladesh and Namibia. Bangladesh reached the quarter-finals in 2012 in Australia and won the Plate Championship in 1998 and 2004, but Afghanistan is a side that is capable of causing an upset.
The qualification of the senior Afghanistan side for its third successive ICC World Twenty20 and maiden ICC Cricket World Cup has provided real impetus to cricket in that country and, as such, its 10th position in 2012 and 16th position in 2010 will count for nothing.
Afghanistan qualified for its third successive ICC U19 Cricket World Cup when it won the ACC U19 Elite Cup and now it is aiming for bigger things. And with top two sides from each group to progress to the Super League stage, potentially the Afghanistan-Bangladesh match in Abu Dhabi on 15 March will decide which side joins Australia in the next round.
“We want to excel not just for our people back home but for all the expatriates here in the UAE as well. We want to make them all happy. Conditions are tough for Afghan people at large, so if we can bring some happiness and cheer into their life, it will be absolutely fantastic,” remarked Afghanistan captain Nasir Jamal.
“This tournament has recently become a tremendous feeder-system for the national side.
“A couple of our squad-members, the likes of Sayed Shirzad and Hashmatullah Shaidi, are also playing for the senior side. And if you see the last edition of the ICC U19 CWC, some of the players that played for us there also went onto wear national colours. So it is a competition that gives brilliant international exposure, and prepares players for the biggest stage of them all,” added the right-hand batsman.
Bangladesh captain Mohammad Mehidy Hassan Miraz was confident his side will progress to the Super League stage.
“I believe we have a fair chance of progressing to the knock-out rounds. We know all about Afghanistan. We beat them recently in the ACC U19 Asia Cup. Australia will be a tough opposition, but at this level no team is too far ahead of another, especially among the top 10,” he said.
Talking about his side, Mehidy said: “Our focus has been to get the processes right. We have a good variety in our bowling, and pride ourselves in the fielding department. The top-order batsmen just need to spend more time at the wicket. That’s one of the areas we are working on.”
Australia, like India, is targeting to win its fourth title though its previous three victories have come in more familiar territories (Australia in 1998 and New Zealand in 2002 and 2010).
Alex Gregory, who is the only member of the Australia squad that featured two years ago and was the captain against India in Darwin last July, said: “This will likely be the largest tournament that any of us have played in, so it will be exciting to play on an international stage and test ourselves under pressure.
“I’m sure all the boys have dreamt of representing their country all their lives, with the final goal of wearing a baggy green for Australia in Test cricket,” he added.
Sounding positive about his country’s chances of becoming the first to win this title four times, Gregory said: “Over the past 12 months a number of the squad have toured New Zealand, Darwin and India, as well as attended a training camp in Brisbane. All the boys know each other fairly well and enjoy each other’s company, so we know our strengths as a group and enjoy playing cricket together.
“For the boys who went to India, they have seen how a sub-continental style pitch will play and have also experienced playing in the heat, which we expect will be similar to some of the conditions in the UAE.”
Namibia, which finished 16th two years ago, has qualified for next week’s tournament after defeating Kenya in the final of the ICC ICC Africa U-19s World Cup Qualifier.
Looking forward to the tournament, captain Gerhard Erasmus said: “To progress beyond the group stages, we will need a good team fight to back up one or to two special performances.
“The key for a small nation is always your 12th player on the field (your team). But as captain, I’ll be looking at vice-captain JJ Smit to lead the bowlers and keeper-batsman JP Kotze to construct the middle-order with myself and Malan Kruger.”
The following release will go out tomorrow:
7 Feb – Review of the teams; preparations in the build-up to the tournament: training camps and tournaments