Bangalore, Aug 7: Complacency will be Pakistan's and New Zealand's biggest enemy when they lock horns in Group B of the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup 2012, a group that also includes a dangerous Afghanistan and Scotland, which is returning after missing the previous two events.
The ninth edition of the ICC U19 CWC will be staged from 11 to 26 August in Queensland with Group B matches to be played on the Sunshine Coast. The top two sides will progress to the Super League quarter-final stage while the bottom two sides will compete in the Plate Championship.
Pakistan is the only side that has won back-to-back titles when it won in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in 2004 and 2006, respectively. In addition to this, it twice reached the finals, in 1988 and 2010, while it lost in the semi-finals of the 2000 and 2008 tournaments.
The current form of Pakistan has been excellent. At Kuala Lumpur in June, Pakistan shared the U19 Asia Cup trophy with India while it beat Australia 2-1 in a series that finished last week on the Gold Coast.
New Zealand has only once appeared in the final of an ICC U19 CWC when, in 1998, it lost to England in Johannesburg. New Zealand lost to India in the 2008 semi-final, finished third in 2002 and twice finished fourth, in the 2000 and 2004 events.
In contrast, Afghanistan and Scotland are relatively inexperienced sides but the strong cricket culture in their respective countries, backed up by some strong performances by their senior sides, make them teams that deserve respect and cannot be taken as push-overs.
Afghanistan will be appearing in its second ICC U19 CWC, after having finished last in the 16-team contest two years ago, with Afsar Khan, Hashmatullah Shaidi, Noor-ul-Haq and Yamin Ahmadzi returning for their second World Cup.
Scotland is returning to the event after having missed the events in Malaysia and New Zealand in 2008 and 2010, respectively. It also didn't figure in the tournament that Sri Lanka staged in 2000. However, for the ICC U19 CWC 2012, Scotland qualified in style when it topped the points table of the 10-team ICC U19 Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2011 that was staged in Derby, Ireland. In that event, Scotland won eight of the nine matches.
The Pakistan side will be led by Babar Azam who, along with Usman Qadir, also played in the ICC U19 CWC 2010. Babar is the only player in the side with first-class experience.
Babar admitted that Group B, despite the inexperience of Afghanistan and Scotland, was a tricky group. "I know it is a tricky group with Afghanistan emerging fast in the international arena. But we would not be bothered about which teams we are playing against. We have to take one match at a time, play well in all the departments of the game and improve as we move forward.
"All other sides have prepared hard for this World Cup, so we have to be at our best to beat other teams irrespective of the formation of the group," Babar said in an ICC media release.
Babar said the three-match series against Australia in the lead up to the World Cup was a build-up to the event. "The tour prior to the World Cup was extremely handy. The players were able to acclimatise to the Australian conditions by playing on those hard surfaces with extra bounce and were able to adjust with weather conditions.
"This also helped us find the right balance and composition of the team before the big event. So, this was a great help for us as we enter the World Cup."
The New Zealand side played in a quadrangular U19 series in April in Townsville, Australia, with England and India as the other sides.
The side will be led by Will Young, a middle-order batsman for Central Districts. Besides Young, other first-class players in the side are right-arm fast bowler Jacob Duffy and left-arm fast bowler Ed Nuttall.
Looking ahead to the group stage and discussing his side, Young said: "It is a tricky group because we know very little about our opponents. We play Scotland in a warm-up game, however, which will be good to see how they play.
"We have some very talented players in our squad. Some to watch out for are Ish Sodhi and Joe Carter. They have come off a strong season with consistent performances. It is a massive event for our side. For all of our players it will be the biggest cricketing event that we have played in and we are very excited.
"Despite New Zealand never winning an U19 World Cup final in the past, I strongly believe that this team has the potential to do so."
Afghanistan: Mohammad Javed (captain), Afsar Khan, Aftab Alam, Fareed Malik, Hashmatullah, Mohammad Yamin, Mohibullah, Najibullah, Nasir Jamal, Noorulhaq, Rahim Mangal, Rashid Khan, Sayed Shiraz, Shabir Ahmed and Younas Khan.
New Zealand: Will Young (captain), Joe Carter, Sean Davey, Michael Davidson, Jacob Duffy, Cameron Fletcher, Ben Horne, Connor Neynens, Edward Nuttall, Robert O'Donnell, Matthew Quinn, Ish Sodhi, Theo van Woerkom, Henry Walsh, and Arnie Yugaraja.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Azizullah, Ehsan Adil, Faraz Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Nawaz, Mir Hamza, Saad Ali, Salman Afridi, Sami Aslam, Shahid Ilyas, Umar Waheed, Usman Qadir, Zafar Gohar and Zia-ul-Haq.
Scotland: Paddy Sadler (captain), Aman Bailwal, Freddie Coleman, Matt Cross, Henry Edwards, Nick Farrar, Gavin Main, Tom McBride, Scott McElnea, Ross McLean, Sam Page, Peter Ross, Kyle Smith, Ruaidhri Smith and Andrew Umeed
Group B schedule:
Sat 11 Aug: Pakistan v Afghanistan, John Blanck Oval, Sunshine Coast
Sun 12 Aug: New Zealand v Scotland, John Blanck Oval, Sunshine Coast
Mon 13 Aug: Pakistan v Scotland, Kev Hackney Oval, Sunshine Coast
Tue 14 Aug: New Zealand v Afghanistan, Kev Hackney Oval, Sunshine Coast
Wed 15 Aug: Scotland v Afghanistan, John Blanck Oval, Sunshine Coast
Thu 16 Aug: Pakistan v New Zealand, John Blanck Oval, Sunshine Coast