Townsville (Australia), Aug 10: Three-time champions Australia will launch their title defence on Saturday (August 11) when they go head to head against 1998 winners England in the feature match of the opening day of the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup 2012 at Tony Ireland Stadium in Townsville.
Also on the opening day of the event, which will run till 26 August, two-time former champions Pakistan will take on neighbours Afghanistan at John Blanck Oval on the Sunshine Coast, while Asian rivals Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will lock horns at Endeavour Park 1 in Townsville. Zimbabwe will meet Papua New Guinea (PNG) at Allan Border Field in Brisbane.
The 16 sides, including 10 Full Members and six qualifiers (Afghanistan, Ireland, Namibia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Scotland), have been equally divided into four groups, with the two top sides from each group to qualify for the Super League stage, and the bottom two sides from each group to compete in the Plate Championship. The Plate final will be staged on 24 August in Brisbane, while the Super League final will be held at Tony Ireland Stadium on 26 August.
Australia is the most successful team in the history of the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup, having won titles in 1988 (Australia), 2002 and 2010 (both in New Zealand). In addition to this, it twice appeared in the semi-finals (2000 and 2006) while in 2008 in Malaysia, it played in the quarter-final.
With the event once again returning to familiar territories, Australia will start off as firm favourite to win the title for the fourth time, which will also make it the second team after Pakistan to win back-to-back titles. Pakistan achieved the feat in 2004 and 2006.
Australia captain Will Bosisto said his side was under no extra pressure of having to defend the title on home turf. "I don't see the fact that we are defending champion as any extra burden. I just think it is a great opportunity for all of us to go out and do our best. I think this will be a great opportunity for us to represent our country at this level. It is the highest honour for an U19 player to play for Australia," he said in an ICC media release.
Bosisto was diplomatic when commenting on the favourites tag. "I wouldn't necessarily say that Australia is a firm favourite in any way. I think we see ourselves as having a very good chance to win the title, and hopefully we can do everything in our power to do that.
"But I know there will be many strong sides from the subcontinent, and obviously England, so we know there is a lot of tough competition out there," he remarked.
England's only triumph came in 1998 when Owais Shah's side beat New Zealand in the final in Johannesburg. England's current captain Adam Ball is hence keen to break the title drought.
"It is definitely time for England to add to that previous success," he said, adding: "It will be very tough for us to repeat that but I feel the team has what it takes to do so. We will have to perform consistently at our best throughout the whole competition and be able to come out on top in high pressure situations."
Group A: Australia vs England, Tony Ireland Stadium, Towmsville
Group B: Afghanistan vs Pakistan, John Blanck Oval, Sunshine Coast
Group C: PNG vs Zimbabwe, Endeavour Park 1, Townsville
Group D: Bangladesh v Sri Lanka, Allan Border Field, Brisbane