Bangalore, Aug 5: Third seed West Indies and two-time former champions and number-six seed India are odds-on favourites to qualify for the Super League stage from Group C of the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup 2012, which will be staged from August 11 to 26 in Queensland, Australia.
Apart from the two powerhouses of cricket, Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea are the other two sides in the group whose matches will be played in Townsville.
The West Indies have only once appeared in a Super League final (2004 Bangladesh) where it lost to Pakistan. However, it has lost four times in the semi-finals, twice to Pakistan (in 1988 and 2010), once to Australia (2002 in New Zealand) and once to England in 2004. While in 2006, it lost to India in the quarter-final before winning the Plate Championship in 2008 in Malaysia.
The West Indies side will be captained by Test opener Kraigg Brathwaite who has played in nine Tests. Apart from Brathwaite, Ronsford Beaton, Kavem Hodge and Amir Khan are the players who have played first-class cricket, while John Campbell is the only player in the side who played in the previous World Cup in New Zealand.
Previewing the group, Braithwaite said, in a ICC media release: "We expect to play good cricket and if we do, we expect to advance to the second round and beyond. But we will not underestimate the opponents. Cricket is a great game and you have to be at your best at all times, no matter who you play against. We have to go out there and play every game hard."
Braithwaite hoped the West Indies will be able to break its title drought, adding the preparations for the event have been excellent. "I believe we can win this tournament. We just need to believe in ourselves, go out there, play as a team to our full potential, and I know we will win.
"We have good players in all departments. We have an experienced batting line-up and a solid group of fast bowlers. We also have some very good all-rounders who we can move up and down the order, according to the state of the match.
"We had tours to Dubai, Florida and India last year and also had two one-week camps in Barbados earlier in the year. We also had a two-week camp in Australia before the World Cup. I believe the squad is really confident, highly motivated and really looking forward to playing some good cricket and bringing the World Cup home for the first time."
India have been seeded sixth for this year's ICC U19 CWC 2012 but it has been a two-time former champion and has produced star cricketers like Virender Sehwag, Mohammad Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Virat Kohli, Irfan Pathan among others from this event over the years.
India finished sixth in the first two events in 1988 and 1998 before winning the 2000 event in Sri Lanka. It then lost successive semi-finals - to South Africa in 2002 and Pakistan in 2004 - before losing the 2006 final to Pakistan. India's second title came in Kuala Lumpur in 2008 while in 2010 it again lost to Pakistan in the quarter-final and finished sixth.
The side will be led by top order batsman Unmukt Chand while other first-class cricketers in the line-up are off-spinner and top order batsman Baba Aparajith, left-arm spinners Harmeet Singh and Vikas Mishra, openers Akhil Herwadka and Manan Vohrar, and right-arm fast bowler Sandeep Sharma.
Talking about his side's strength, weakness and challenges, Chand said: "We have a strong batting and bowling line-up. The batsmen and bowlers have delivered in crunch situations. Our fielding is an asset, as well. We have it in us to go the distance.
"We are bound to face challenges, with so many quality teams in the fray. However, what might work in our favour is that we have played in Australia, as recently as April 2012. It should not take us long to acclimatise and adjust to the conditions in Australia.
"Every match will be a test. We will definitely not make the mistake of taking things lightly. It is important to be focussed, and not get complacent."
Previewing the tournament, Chand said: "The tournament is a wonderful platform for youngsters from all over the world. You can expect outstanding displays of batting, bowling, fielding, and most importantly, teamwork. Many cricketers will stake their respective claims to play at the highest level, by excelling in the competition.
"It is heartening to have more than a billion people behind us. We will do our best to make them happy," said Chand, who averages just under 44 in 11 first-class matches for Delhi.
Zimbabwe is seeded 10th after finishing in a disappointing 13th position in 2010 after having finished 14th in the event before in Malaysia. In 2002, in New Zealand, Zimbabwe won the Plate Championship and in 2004 in Bangladesh it finished third in the Super League.
Zimbabwe will be led by all-rounder Matthew Bentley while vice-captain Kevin Kasuza and Nyasha Mayavo are the only players with experience of first-class cricket.
PNG will be appearing in its sixth ICC U19 CWC after having missed out on 1988, 2000 and 2006 events. In 1998, 2002 and 2004, PNG finished fourth in the Plate Championship while it lost the Plate Championship semi-final to the West Indies in 2008 before finishing 12th in the 2010 event.
The side will be led by middle-order batsman Chris Kent while right-handed batsman Lega Siake will be the vice-captain. The squad also includes Charles Amini whose grandfather, Brian, and father, Charles Senior, captained the senior PNG sides. Chris Amini, a current PNG senior player and a former U19 captain, is Charles Amini's older brother. This will be the younger Amini's third ICC U19 CWC.
India: Unmukt Chand (captain), Baba Aparajith, Prashant Chopra, Sandipan Das, Akhil Herwadkar, Rush Kalaria, Vikas Mishra, Akshdeep Nath, Kamal Passi, Smit Patel (wicketkeeper), Ravi Kant Singh, Sandeep Sharma, Harmeet Singh, Hanuma Vihari and Vijay Zol
Papua New Guinea: Chris Kent (captain), Charles Amini, Dogodo Bau, Sese Bau, Nigel Boge, Albert Geita, Raymond Haoda, Ratu Maha, Kabua Vagi Morea, Alei Nao, Lista Oala, Vagi Oala, Lega Siake, Toua Tom and Norman Vanua
West Indies: Kraigg Brathwaite (captain), Anthony Alleyne, Sunil Ambris, Ronsford Beaton, John Campbell, Derone Davis, Justin Greaves, Kavem Hodge, Akeal Hosein, Jerome Jones, Keiron Joseph, Steven Katwaroo, Amir Khan, Kyle Mayers and Marquino Mindley
Zimbabwe: Matthew Bentley (captain), Kyle Bowie, Ryan Burl, Atishsinh Chouhan, Kieran Geyle, Kevin Kasuza, Malcolm Lake, Campbell Light, Luke Jongwe, Wellington Masakadza, Luke Masasire, Nyasha Mayavo, Curthbert Musoko, Andre Odendaal, and Peacemore Zimwa
Group C schedule
Sat 11 Aug - Zimbabwe v PNG, Oval 1, Endeavour Park, Townsville
*Sun 12 Aug - India v West Indies, Tony Ireland Stadium Townsville
Mon 13 June - West Indies v PNG, Oval 2, Tony Ireland Stadium, Townsville
*Tues 14 June - India v Zimbabwe, Tony Ireland Stadium, Townsville
Thu 16 Aug - India v PNG, Oval 1, Endeavour Park 1; West Indies v Zimbabwe, Oval 2, Endeavour Park 2
*Indicates broadcast matches