ACC U-19 ELITE CUP PREVIEW: NOT NECESSARILY NEPAL

With players in teams that have won or been in the Finals of a whole range of ACC tournaments from seniors to U-15, the 2009 ACC U-19 Elite Cup will be extremely competitive.

Nepal have won the last four ACC U-19 competitions, by virtue of which they went on to the ICC U/19 World Cup where they have defeated Bangladesh, Pakistan, New Zealand and South Africa. But this time they have will have a tough fight.

Irfan Ahmed of Hong Kong
Picture: Peter Lim

Challengers there are aplenty, not least Afghanistan who Nepal beat in the 2007 Final but every opposing team has a star or three who can win matches from any situation. Nepal have made a virtue of steadiness over the years and have had some seriously classy players leading from the front and pushing from behind – Binod Das, Paras Khadka, Sharad Vesawkar. But those players are now in their 20s. The new generation, for all their promise – and from the U-17 Elite Cup winners at the start of the year Prithu Baskota has to be one of the most mature characters in the event – still has a lot to prove.

Tamoor Sajjad of Qatar
Courtesy of myrepublica.com

Up against Nepal are proven talents throughout all the teams, Hong Kong’s wicket-keeper captain James Atkinson and fast-bowler Irfan Ahmed have played ODIs in the Asia Cup and were part of the team which won the 2008 ACC Trophy and Oman, Qatar and Singapore all have players who have been nominated as Best Bowler or Batsman in previous ACC youth tournaments.

Only Saudi Arabia are fielding a team of relative unknowns. None of the Saudi players who won the 2007 ACC U-19 Challenge Cup so convincingly are playing this time round but they are likely to be a very dangerous side in Group A, capable of beating any of the others.  Bhutan are new at the Elite level too, and the team that has taken them through U-15, U-17 and U-19 Challenge cricket remains largely intact. “It’s a learning experience for us,” says coach Damber Singh Gurung, “but we know what we’re up against and we have seen the way Nepal play to be successful. I think we can survive at the Elite Level.”


Players to look out for? Just  the captains alone:  Faris Almas of Malaysia, James Atkinson of Hong Kong, Prem Dadlani of Singapore, Gaurav Honavar of Oman, Gyanendra Malla of Nepal, Tamoor Sajjad of Qatar, Shir Shirzai of Afghanistan, Jigme Singye of Bhutan…and they would be the first to applaud any one of their team-mates who also shine. There’s a lot of talent in Asia, and there are increasingly more opportunities for them to raise their game.

Kuwait Cricket's Director-General Asad Baig tending to pressing matters at Sulaibiya last year

A strong feature of the cricket in host-nation Kuwait is the presence of spectators at all matches. Afghanistan always draw a crowd but such is the widespread nature of cricketing passion in Kuwait, there will be a fair number of supporters at all the matches. The ACC U-19 Elite Cup sees the international debut of Kuwait’s fifth turf facility Sulaibiya, a pitch literally created from the ground up by the staff of Kuwait Cricket.

A place in the 2010 U/19 World Cup is at stake for not just the winning team but the runner's up too this time. They will have a chance to do what Nepal has done, in a play-off with the top two U-19 teams from the four other ICC regions, to determine the five non-Test playing countries, plus Kenya, who will play in the 2010 event. "If you win this competition you know you can play," says the last captain to lift the ACC U-19 Elite Cup Nepal's Paras Khadka.

2009 ACC U-19 Elite Cup Schedule

Nepal U-19s, racing ahead since 2001

Filed April 21, 2009