LONDON: Defending champions Australia will take on England at Townsville's Tony Ireland Stadium on Saturday to kickstart the latest edition of the Under-19 World Cup, in Queensland.
On the same day, two-time former champions Pakistan play Afghanistan at John Blanck Oval on the Sunshine Coast, while Bangladesh and Sri Lanka face each other at Townsville's Endeavour Park. At the Allan Border Field in Brisbane, Zimbabwe play Papua New Guinea.
The biennial competition features 16 teams, including the 10 Full Members of the ICC and six qualifiers (Afghanistan, Ireland, Namibia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Scotland). The teams are divided into four groups of four each, with the top two from each group qualifying for the quarter-finals. The bottom two from each group will compete in the Plate Championship. The grand final will be played at Tony Ireland Stadium on August 26.
Australia captain William Bosisto said his side cannot expect an easy journey, despite playing at home. "I wouldn't necessarily say that Australia is a firm favourite in any way," Bosisto said. "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."
England last won the title in 1998, under Owais Shah, and the captain Adam Ball said consistency is the key.
"It is definitely time for England to add to that previous success," Ball said. "It will be very tough for us to repeat that but I feel the team has what it takes to do so. I think Australia have to be one of the favourites as they are playing in their own country and have won the tournament several times before. I also think that Pakistan will be a very hard team to beat even in conditions that may not favour them."
Pakistan captain Babar Azam said his team's chances will depend on how soon they adapt to the conditions.
"I think we are one of the tournament favourites as we bat deep, have a couple of good allrounders and also possess a few quality fast bowlers and spinners in the side," Azam said. "Moreover, our recent performance at the international level is encouraging so I think our team could be termed as favourites alongside some other teams. However, it will all depend on how quickly we adjust to the conditions in Australia. We all know that pitches and outfields in Australia are very hard and there is extra bounce on the pitches."
South Africa have never won the tournament, though they came close in 2008 in Malaysia, finishing as the runners-up. They open their campaign on Sunday, against Bangladesh.
"This squad has been on a two-year progression plan for this event," the captain Chad Bowes said. "We have arrived in Australia to play good, solid cricket and we believe that we have the potential to be the first South Africa side to win the U-19 World Cup."