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South Africa favourite to progress, seek elusive first major ICC title

Canada, 2004 runner-up West Indies and Zimbabwe the other teams in the group

South Africa, statistically the fourth-most successful team in the history of the tournament behind Australia, Pakistan and India, will be eager to get rid of its bridesmaid’s tag as it goes into the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup (ICC U19 CWC).

South Africa is the favourite to progress from Group C. The group also includes Canada, 2004 runner-up the West Indies and Zimbabwe. The latter, which has appeared in the Super League three times (1998, 2004 and 2006) will look to upset South Africa or the West Indies to become the second side to qualify from the group.

As such, the West Indies-Zimbabwe match in Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Cricket Stadium on 16 February and South Africa-Zimbabwe match at the same venue on 18 February will be crucial in determining which the second team to qualify for the Super League from the group will be.

The bottom two teams from the group will go into the Plate Championship.

South Africa finished third in the last edition of the tournament in Australia in 2012, and has therefore been seeded the same. Runner-up in 2002 and 2008, the side from Africa is also the most successful among all teams in the fray that haven’t won a title yet. It has an overall win-percentage of 69.39 in the ICC U19 CWC, with 34 victories from 49 matches.

South Africa skipper Aiden Markram suggested progressing from Group C will be a challenge for all the sides there, saying: “The group is definitely one that can’t be taken for granted.

“The West Indies, as we know from the past, will pose a really tough challenge, while Zimbabwe has shown in the recent India tour that it can compete against all teams.”

With South Africa gunning for a first major ICC title, the right-hand opening batsman described his side’s approach thus: “We will look to assess conditions in Dubai as quickly as possible, and then simply focus on our team and not too much on our opponents.”

The man at the helm for Zimbabwe, Malcolm Lake, agreed with Markram that Group C is a tough one but added a word of caution: “I believe our group is tough, yes, but then again, so are all the others. I do not see ours as the ‘Group of Death’.”

Zimbabwe is looking to progress to the business end of the Super League for the first time since 2006. Lake stressed on how hard the team is working towards that quest by trying to upset South Africa or the West Indies and also beating Canada. He said: “We have worked on options for our batters in playing spin and fast bowling. Fielding is still a concern, so a lot of work has gone into improving that.”

Asked how Zimbabwe stacks up against its group-opponents, Lake said: “We boast of a good spin bowling attack arguably better than that of the South Africans.

“The West Indies is currently struggling to play spin, judging by its series loss against Bangladesh, which predominantly bowled spin. As such, we will be looking to exploit this flaw to our advantage,” added the all-rounder. 

Canada captain Nitish Kumar, who is also the youngest player yet to play in the senior ICC Cricket World Cup argued that qualifying ahead would be a tough challenge for his team. He said: “The group we are in is a difficult one.

“The West Indies U19 team has generally been one of the top teams in this tournament for a while. South Africa has produced many great cricketers from this tournament as well, so you can just imagine that they will have a good team.

“These will be our tough games, but we will be prepared and ready to play. If we keep things simple and do the little things well, we will give ourselves a chance,” added the all-rounder.

Describing the tournament format, Kumar said: “We are really excited about it. This format will give all teams a lower margin of error, since one loss could be costly.

“However, if you qualify for the next round, it will give you a chance to play many more games. So one of our short-term goals is to make it into the second round,” he added.

To help his players get accustomed to the somewhat unfamiliar conditions in the UAE, Kumar said a training camp had been specially set up in Canada, adding: “A lot of emphasis right now is on bowling and playing spin, since those two things will hold the key for all sides there.”

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