By K.R. Nayar

The ninth edition of the ACC Under-19 Cup, organized by the Asian Cricket Council (ACC), which is to be held from December 23 to December 31 in Dubai and Sharjah, is expected to produce resounding performances from the rising stars of world cricket. It was through this tournament that some of today’s top cricketers announced their arrival. From the first edition that was held 42 years ago in 1989 in Bangladesh, it has always been an intense contest for the title.

India has dominated this tournament lifting the ACC Under-19 Cup seven times and once sharing the title with Pakistan in 2012 in Malaysia following a tied match. The only other nation to have lifted this Cup is Afghanistan in 2017 after beating Pakistan by 185 runs in Malaysia.

This will be the second time after the 2013-14 edition that the UAE will be hosting this 50-over tournament. The ICC Cricket Academy Oval grounds 1 and 2 and Sharjah Cricket Stadium will host the group matches, and the final on December 31 will be held at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

The last edition final of this tournament held on September 14, 2019 at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo was a thriller. India was shot out for 106 in 32.4 overs but they fought back to restrict Bangladesh to 101 in 33 overs. The hero of the match was India’s left-arm spinner Atharva Vinod Ankolekar who bagged five wickets for 28 runs from his eight overs. The 2018 edition was held in Bangladesh and India defeated Sri Lanka by 144 runs in the final to emerge champions for the sixth time.

When India won the first edition in 1989 beating Sri Lanka in the final, the Indian team had future stars like former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, Ajay Jadeja, and Vinod Kambli while Sri Lanka was led by Marvan Atapattu.

The second edition was held after a gap of 14 years and India defended the title again in 2003 in Pakistan once against beating Sri Lanka in the final. In this edition, Irfan Patan, who went on to become one of India’s finest allrounders, emerged as Player of the Series. Pakistan skipper Babar Azam had captained the team in the 2012 edition in Kuala Lumpur. When Afghanistan won the 2017 edition they had Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who is one of the finest hard hitters in the game today and Pakistan had left-arm pacer Shaheen Afridi in the squad.

The five ICC full member nations from Asia are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and India. The qualifiers for the event are Kuwait, Nepal, and hosts UAE. Group A is made up of Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and the UAE. Group B comprises Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Kuwait.

India will defend their title through a strong squad led by Yash Dhull, who has piled up 302 runs for an average of 75.50 and emerged the leading run-getter in the Vinoo Mankad Trophy this year for Delhi. SK Rasheed, who also produced an impressive show in the Vinoo Mankad Trophy, is the vice-captain. India’s Under-19 team has arrived here after receiving a pep talk from India’s Limited Over cricket captain Rohit Sharma at the National Cricket Academy, Bangalore, where the team was undergoing the preparatory camp for this event.

Indian will commence their campaign taking on the UAE in the opening match at the ICC Academy Oval 1 on December 23 at 9.30 am.

The Pakistan team is being led by Qasim Akram, who will be playing in the Under-19 World Cup for the second time. His team openers Abdul Wahid Bangalzai and Mohammad Shehzad, as well as middle-order batter Irfan Khan Niazi, have also played in the previous World Cup. Pakistan will take on Afghanistan on the opening day at ICC Academy Oval 2.

The clash between traditional rivals India and Pakistan will be held on December 25 at the ICC Ground 2 (local time 9.30am)

Sri Lanka has an impressive squad and had defeated Under-19 World Cup champions Bangladesh and England at home in the last few months. The team is being led by allrounder Dunith Wellalage, and they have Chamindu Wickramasinghe, Matheesha Pathirana, Raveen de Silva, and Yasiru Rodigo, all of whom have all played in the Under-19 World Cup before. Sri Lanka starts off by taking Kuwait at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on the second day (December 24).

Bangladesh, the defending champions of the Under-19 World Cup, is being led by left-arm spinner Rakibul Hasan. He had captained Bangladesh to an under-19 World Cup triumph in the 2020 edition. Bangladesh takes on qualifiers Nepal on the opening day at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium from 9.30am.

Afghanistan is led by left-handed top-order batsman Suliman Safi with Ijaz Ahmadzai as his deputy. The squad was picked after 45 players were invited to a one-month training camp. Two of their players who had played in the 2020 ICC Under-19 World Cup are left-arm spinner Noor Ahmad and wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Ishaq.

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