Host Bangladesh, England, India and Pakistan unbeaten in Group stage; Qualifiers Nepal and Namibia look to make impact
These four teams topped their respective groups in the preliminary league with an all-win record, displaying all-round strengths good enough to take any one of them all the way to the title.
Sri Lanka and the West Indies, the other two Test nations in the last eight, will also fancy their chances even as qualifiers Namibia and Nepal look to make a mark against the bigger teams.
The knock-out round opens with a match between Bangladesh and Nepal, two of the five Asian sides in the fray, in Mirpur on Friday. India meets Namibia in Fatullah on Saturday and Pakistan faces the West Indies on Monday at the same venue.
Bangladesh, the most experienced side in the tournament with five players taking part in their second under-19 World Cup, has not looked back after knocking out defending champion South Africa in the opening match on 27 January.
Captain Mehidy Hasan’s team played inspiring cricket in home conditions in front of fanatical fans to raise hopes of beating Nepal and going past the quarter-finals for the first time in the history of the tournament.
Nazmul Hossain scored an unbeaten century against Scotland, while seamer Mohammad Saifuddin and spinner Saleh Ahmed are the bowling spearheads with seven wickets apiece.
“The journey has been good so far and if we can get to the semi-finals, there is every chance of something good happening. I can feel it,” said Mehidy.
“We have seen a bit of Nepal, whose players seem to be enjoying their cricket. We may be more experienced than them, but one can’t afford to relax in a knock-out situation.”
Nepal, which last played in the U19 World Cup in 2012 and returned for this edition after winning the qualifying tournament in Malaysia, defeated New Zealand and Ireland to advance to the quarter-finals.
Rahul-Dravid coached India swept past Group D rivals Ireland, New Zealand and Nepal in impressive fashion, but captain Ishan Kishan is not taking Namibia lightly in the quarter-finals.
“We have not seen Namibia play but they must obviously be doing well to get to this stage,” he said. “The idea is to stick to the basics and focus on our plans.
“We have batted and bowled well but we can’t expect one person to perform in every match. Everyone has to contribute. We want to perform as a team.”
Stocky Sarfaraz Khan scored 74 in each of the first two games to shore up a wobbly top-order.
But it was left-handed opener Rishabh Pant who stole the show with a blistering 78 off 24 balls against hapless Nepal, a knock studded with nine boundaries and five sixes.
His 50 off just 18 balls was the fastest recorded half-century in the history of under-19 international cricket.
Unfancied Namibia has progressed beyond its best-ever finish of 11th place in 2008 following a stunning two-wicket win over South Africa and a nine-wicket defeat of Scotland.
Skipper Zane Green, who also played in the 2014 event where Namibia finished 14th, said team spirit had played a big role this time.
“Our strength has been our team spirit. We play great as a team,” he said. “I am very happy with the performance so far but playing India will obviously be a new experience.
“We have only watched India on TV. They are a great side.”
England, with nine senior county players in its ranks, has shown excellent form with both bat and ball in its three Group C matches to emerge as the team to beat in the competition.
England raked up huge totals each time it took the crease, scoring 371 for three against Fiji and followed that with 282 for seven against the West Indies and 288 for four against Zimbabwe.
Opener Dan Lawrence, who plays for Essex, has notched up 288 runs so far with a century and two half-centuries. Durham’s Jack Burnham too has been in dominant form with two centuries.
Lancashire seamer Saqib Mahmood is the tournament’s leading bowler with 11 wickets, two more than the second-placed duo of Pakistan leg-spinner Shadab Khan and Indian fast bowler Avesh Khan.
England’s captain Brad Taylor said even though his team had emerged unscathed in the group, the quarter-final against Sri Lanka will be a different proposition.
“We played them in Sri Lanka last year and know what to expect,” said Taylor. “They will be a tough opponent in conditions that suit their style of play.”
Pakistan trounced Afghanistan by six wickets and Canada by seven wickets before squeezing past Sri Lanka by 23 runs on Wednesday to top Group B.
The batting has revolved around skipper Zeeshan Malik and all-rounder Hasan Mohsin, whose 86 and two early wickets earned him the man of the match award against Sri Lanka.
Pakistan will take note of the exploits of West Indies fast bowler Alzarri Joseph, who clocked 147 kmph during one spell against Zimbabwe, and the batting duo of Shamar Springer and Gidron Pope.
West Indies coach Graeme West said the bowlers needed to keep a tight line and length if his wards were to overcome the challenge from Pakistan.
“We have batted really well in the top and bottom of the order,” he said. “I am really pleased with our strike bowler Joseph. But the bowling needs to be tighter and more disciplined.
“Pakistan have a lot of variety and quality in bowling. We will be looking for everybody to contribute, because without that we won’t be able to challenge the likes of Pakistan.”
In the Plate championship for teams which failed to qualify for the Super League, South Africa beat Ireland and New Zealand beat Scotland in quarter-final matches on Thursday, 4 February.
Afghanistan will meet Fiji and Zimbabwe clashes with Canada on Friday 5 February. All Plate matches will be played in Cox’s Bazar.
Quarter-finals (Super League)
5 Feb - Bangladesh v Nepal, Mirpur (QF1)
6 Feb - India v Namibia, Fatullah (QF2)
7 Feb - England v Sri Lanka, Mirpur (QF3)
8 Feb - Pakistan v West Indies, Fatullah (QF4)
9 Feb – winner QF2 v winner QF3, Mirpur
11 Feb – winner QF1 v winner QF4, Mirpur
Quarter-finals (Plate Championship, matches in Cox’s Bazar):
5 Feb - Canada v Zimbabwe, Cox’s Bazar; Afghanistan v Fiji, Cox’s Bazar