Dubai: Future stars will get a chance to show their talent, potential and prowess when the ICC U-19 World Cup gets underway across the United Arab Emirates on Friday.
The tournament has provided impetus to the careers of stalwarts like Michael Atherton, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Nasser Hussain, Brian Lara, Sanath Jayasuriya and Graeme Smith as well as current stars like Ahmed Shahzad, Alastair Cook, Quinton de Kock, Shikhar Dhawan, Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli, Angelo Mathews, Shakib Al Hasan, Steven Smith and Ross Taylor, among others.
It is one of the most important and keenly followed cricketing events where teenagers get a taste of international experience, pressure and exposure and also receive training and education on anti-doping and anti-corruption.
This year's event carries extra significance as it is taking place a year before the 2015 ICC World Cup. A lot of cricketers will be looking to excel here so that they can catch the eye of their national selectors and earn the honour of representing their countries in the sport's biggest extravaganza which will be staged in Australia and New Zealand from Feb 14 to March 1 next year.
The 16 teams in the U-19 World Cup have been divided in four groups:
Group A: India, Pakistan, Scotland and Papua New Guinea
Group B: Australia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Namibia
Group C: South Africa, Zimbabwe, West Indies and Canada.
Group D: New Zealand, England, Sri Lanka and United Arab Emirates
The top two teams from each group will progress to the Super League quarter-finals while the bottom two will qualify for the Plate Championship quarter-finals.
On the opening day, four matches will be played with 1998 champions England taking on UAE at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi, Zimbabwe facing Canada at Abu Dhabi Oval 1, New Zealand squaring off against Sri Lanka at Sharjah Cricket Stadium and South Africa and the West Indies going head to head at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
India, also the holders of the World Cup and the Champions Trophy, will seek to defend the junior title in the 16-day tournament where 48 matches will be played. India have previously won the crown under Mohammad Kaif in 2000, Kohli in 2008 and Unmukt Chand in 2012 but unlike Pakistan, their opponent in Saturday's match here, they have never won back-to-back titles.
India seems to have strong credentials as only a month ago here, they won the U-19 Asia Cup defeating Pakistan in the final. Last year in July, it also won the U-19 tri-series featuring Australia and New Zealand and beat Sri Lanka in August in a bilateral series. They also won theU-19 quadrangular series, involving South Africa, Australia and Zimbabwe.
However, the final build-up for India has been far from ideal as they lost both their warm-up matches to Sri Lanka (by five wickets) and South Africa (five wickets).
"We are really confident about our chances. We have won in the past and also the recently concluded Asia Cup. So we are carrying the momentum with us. Everybody is looking in good nick and working hard and we are looking forward to playing in the tournament," India captain Vijay Zol said.
"Pakistan is a good team. They have been doing well on the U-19 circuit but we have managed to beat them. Recently, we beat them in the Asia Cup final that was also played here. We are very confident about playing against them."