x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

As usual, India and Pakistan favourites to win Under 19 World Cup

The teams from the subcontinent do relatively well in the grade-level tournament, which has seen massive strides over the past decade, writes Osman Samiuddin.

Pakistan cricketers, in green, have had plenty of success at age-group level. Matt Roberts / Getty Images
Pakistan cricketers, in green, have had plenty of success at age-group level. Matt Roberts / Getty Images

At the first Under 19 World Cup, almost exactly 26 years ago now, back in 1988, when it was known simply as the Youth World Cup, Pakistan’s players – and possibly other sides’, as well – were put up with families, rather than hotels, much like a school exchange trip.

It is impossible to imagine that now, yet as the 10th edition of the tournament gets under way in the UAE from tomorrow, it is worth noting that it has been only a decade since the tournament became a serious affair.

It was the fifth tournament, staged in Bangladesh in February 2004, when the U19 World Cup truly came of age. The venue, for a start, was an inspired choice.

Previous tournaments had generally been low-key ones; the norm was for attendances to be low, though both in 1998 in South Africa and 2000 in Sri Lanka, a number of matches attracted fair-sized crowds.

Nothing, though, to compare to what happened in Bangladesh. More than 350,000 spectators turned up over the 54 matches and the final, between Pakistan and the West Indies, drew 30,000.

There was greater, more dedicated coverage so that it was the first tournament that broke through into the cricket mainstream. There it has remained since.

That tournament was also significant in that it touched off a period of subcontinent domination of the event; Pakistan won the next event, as well and one of India or Pakistan has made the final of every event thereafter. Before that year, India had won once and Pakistan had been runners-up in the inaugural event.

It is in that region, particularly India and Pakistan, where the tournament has always resonated the loudest.

None of the four main subcontinent sides has been afraid to blood young players.

Twenty-two of the 23 youngest Test debuts, for instance, come from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. For many, the tournament becomes the ideal platform from which to dive onto the senior stage.

By comparison, it has not lit up the imagination in quite the same manner in other established countries such as Australia, England and South Africa.

Perhaps it says something about the more rigorous, more graded infrastructures in these three, particularly between the U19 set-up and the senior side.

Half the romance about India and Pakistan’s best U19 sides revolves around the great talents who did not make it.

Not much will be different this time round, though crowd attendances will take a beating here.

Already, Pakistan and India – the defending champions – can claim a place among the favourites (Pakistan have been on a particularly hot streak recently). Australia, as they always tend to be, will be in the mix as well.