Kuala Lampur: The ICC U-19 World Cup got underway in style with a vibrant opening ceremony at the picturesque Kinrara Oval here on Friday.
On what was an upbeat occasion with a distinctly Malaysian feel, six high-energy drummers set the scene as music blared out across the Oval. A paraglider landed inside the ground carrying the flags of Malaysia and the International Cricket Council (ICC).
The flags were then raised by HRH Tunku Tan Sri Imran Ibni Tuanku Ja"afar, President of the Malaysian Cricket Association, and the seventh U-19 CWC was declared open. All 16 squads were there on the field with their respective flag-bearers leading the way.
The teams were viewed by a large crowd made up of invited dignitaries, match officials, tournament organisers, supporters, media representatives and members of the general public as the tournament was opened in tremendous style.
“This event is designed to be a finishing school for young cricketers," said ICC Chief Executive Malcolm Speed. “It"s an opportunity for these young players to test their skills in a full ICC tournament environment against their peers from around the world.
“When I think back over previous U-19 World Cups the first thing to come to mind is the quality of the players that have come to the fore in the senior global game having first played in this tournament. Inzamam-ul-Haq, Brian Lara, Yuvraj Singh, Graeme Smith, Sanath Jayasuriya and many other fine players began their international careers on this stage.
“And I have no doubt that before us today there will is the next generation of cricketer who will excite and thrill us in future Test matches and ODIs.
“But it is about more than that. It"s about receiving education on matters of anti-corruption and anti-doping, it"s about learning how to cope with questions from the media and generally being in the spotlight. It"s about managing to perform to the best of your ability in the midst of all the necessary distractions that go along with events like this. In short, it"s about becoming well-rounded sportsmen," said Mr Speed.
President of the Malaysian Cricket Association HRH Tunku Imran said: “The ICC U-19 World Cup is the leading development tournament for international cricket and it is an honour to be the first non-Test-playing country to host the event.
“It gives Malaysia, as a developing cricketing country, the opportunity to showcase the fruits of our labour through the aggressive development programmes that we have undertaken. Cricket as a sport epitomizes the strong traits that we seek to nurture through the development programmes as it breeds physical and mental resilience and team spirit while at the same time developing natural leaders.
“We hope that through this event, we will be able to create excitement and pave the way for more young enthusiastic and adrenalin-pumping teenagers to take up cricket in Malaysia.
“I personally wish each and every player from the 16 countries all the best as they take on the challenges of the U/19 CWC and I sincerely hope that they enjoy and absorb the true spirit of cricket."
Special guest Azizan Nordin from the Malaysian Ministry of Tourism added: “Just as important as playing cricket is the fact that while competing against each other, I am sure new friendships will be made.
“This is made so much more meaningful by the very fact that each and every one of you will have the opportunity to meet new friends from different cultures from different parts of the world. This will foster greater understanding among each other as well as promoting greater friendships that, hopefully, will last a lifetime."
After the opening ceremony, the teams departed for their respective venues across the three Malaysian cities of Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor. The first round of matches takes place on Sunday, 17 February, with eight teams in action on that day.
Along with the 10 Full Members and the host Malaysia, Nepal (Asia), Ireland (Europe), Bermuda (Americas), Namibia (Africa) and Papua New Guinea (East Asia-Pacific) qualified from their regions to get to this stage.
The 16 teams have been divided into four groups with the top two teams progressing to the Super League quarter-finals while the two bottom teams from each group qualify for the Plate Championship quarter-finals.
A total of 44 matches, including 24 in the first round, seven in the Super League and 13 in play-offs will be played at seven venues across the three cities.
Defending champion Pakistan will get its ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup campaign underway by playing the host Malaysia on 17 February at Johor Cricket Academy.
Pakistan is the only team to have won back-to-back titles at this level, having triumphed in 2004 and 2006 in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, respectively, and will now aim to make it a hat-trick as it goes into the event as top seed.
The winner from 2000, India, is seeded second, with Australia (winners in the inaugural event back in 1988 and also in 2002) seeded third and England (winners in 1999) fourth.