India look to defend their crown as cricket's next generation heads to South Africa for the 13th edition of the Youth ODI tournament
Cricket's next generation of superstars convene in South Africa this week for the 13th edition of the Under-19 World Cup.
Previous tournaments have seen the likes of Virat Kohli, Trent Boult, Babar Azam, Mitchell Johnson, Mike Atherton and Chris Gayle set the stage for glittering careers in international cricket, and India head in as defending champions after Prithvi Shaw captained his country to an unprecedented fourth title in New Zealand in 2018.
Eight more teams begin their campaigns the following day, with all 24 group stage matches set to be completed by January 25.
The knockout portion of the tournament kicks off two days later, with all 16 teams filtering through to the final set of placement games, starting February 1.
Potchefstroom's JB Marks Oval will play host to the tournament final on February 7.
Like its older siblings, the Under-19 World Cup is played in the standard 50-over format. Sixteen teams have been placed into four pools of four, with each side facing the other three members of their group between January 17 and January 25.
With two points awarded for a win and one for a tie or an incomplete game, the top two sides will then progress to the Super League stage – in other words, the quarter-finals – while the remainder of the sides continue their tournament in the Plate League.
Unlike other ICC tournaments, every team in the Under-19 World Cup competes in the playoff process, with winners in both the Super and Plate leagues progressing through semi-finals and finals to determine their final placings.
Teams that lose in the knockout stage will play through a series of playoff games to complete the final 16-team ranking, meaning that every side in South Africa will play six games across the course of the 24-day competition.
Prithvi Shaw captained India to their fourth title in 2018
The Under-19 World Cup has featured 16 teams since it became a regular fixture in the cricketing calendar in 1998, and the 2020 tournament is no different.
Each of the top 11 sides in the 2018 contest earned automatic places for this year's tournament, with the five remaining spaces reserved for winners of qualification competitions for the Africa, America, Asia, East Asia Pacific and Europe regions.
An expansion of the qualification process for this year's tournament saw no fewer than 50 teams competing for the final five spaces in South Africa, with second division tournaments introduced for African, Asian and European sides for the first time.
Nigeria will make their maiden appearance at an ICC global event after becoming the first and so far only team to make it through the two-stage qualification procedure. The Junior Yellow Greens, who are captained by senior team deputy Sylvester Okpe, lifted the Africa Division Two title in South Africa in August 2018 before shocking the likes of Kenya, Namibia and Uganda at the Division One tournament in Windhoek seven months later.
They will be joined by fellow first-timers Japan, who returned to the East Asia Pacific qualifier as hosts after eight years without fielding a side. Marcus Thurgate's team went undefeated throughout the round-robin series in June, however their match with eight-time participants Papua New Guinea saw them awarded the points by default after the visitors had no choice but to forfeit after suspending 11 members of their 14-man squad for disciplinary breaches.
Ireland is the only Full Member nation absent from the tournament, with the 13th-place finish managed by Harry Tector's side in 2018 not enough to secure an automatic place for 2020 and a 47-run defeat to eventual champions Scotland in the European qualifier extinguishing their hopes of making it to South Africa.
England will be led to the tournament by former Gloucestershire seamer Jon Lewis, who had served as interim coach for the previous campaign before leaving his the Sussex staff to assume a full-time position overseeing the Young Lions programme in April 2018.
At the World Cup proper, the squad will be eager to improve on the seventh place managed in 2018 by a side which included Tom Banton – the Somerset wicketkeeper who has since made his England debut and attracted Big Bash and IPL contracts – alongside current county regulars Will Jacks and Dillon Pennington.
Of course, the ambition is to become the first England team to lift the trophy since Owais Shah's side went all the way in 1998, the last time the tournament took place in South Africa. Graeme Swann, Graham Napier, Chris Schofield and Rob Key were among the XI on that occasion, with a century from opener Stephen Peters and three wickets from future Sussex one-cap wonder Giles Haywood securing the win with four overs to spare.
Hamidullah Qadri, George Balderson and Dan Mousley will be among the Young Lions' key players
This time around, Lewis can call on seven players with first-team county outings under their belt – seven more than last time out – with players including allrounder Ben Charlesworth (Gloucestershire), wicketkeeper Jordan Cox (Kent) and offspinner Hamidullah Qadri (Derbyshire) having already become established members of their senior county squads in recent seasons.
Lewis and his staff have kept the core of the squad consistent through much of the last year, with Andy Flower and Ian Bell among the senior figures who have worked with the side in recent months. December's trip to the Caribbean for a tri-series with Sri Lanka and the West Indies displayed significant progress on efforts against India and Bangladesh at home in the summer, with England winning six of eight matches on the trip and reaching the series final ahead of their hosts.
Pace bowler Nick Kimber, who recently confirmed a move from Nottinghamshire to Surrey on a two-year contract, is the most notable omission from the final squad, having been ruled out of contention for England's winter fixtures with a stress fracture in his back.
Luke Hollman, the Middlesex allrounder who was the youngest player in the 2018 squad, is the one man to miss out from the 16 players who featured in the Caribbean.
Lancashire seamer George Balderson captains the side having impressed throughout 2019, collecting 24 wickets at 17.41 across fixtures with Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and the West Indies. The Manchester-born 19-year-old is also a capable batsman, regularly featuring in his county's top three at second-team level.
India enter the tournament as early favourites, with captain Priyam Garg one of five players already snapped up by IPL franchises during last month's player auction. Top-order batsman Yashasvi Jaiswal – who went to Rajasthan Royals for INR 2.4 crore (£250,000) will be key to the country's hopes of becoming the first side since Pakistan in 2006 to successfully defend the title, after a side featuring Shubman Gill and Prithvi Shaw claimed India's fourth crown in New Zealand two years ago.
Australia, beaten finalists on that occasion, return in search of matching India's trophy count with former Test regulars Chris Rogers and Ryan Harris leading the coaching staff. While the calibre of talent in the side is undisputed – including Melbourne Renegades batsman Mackenzie Harvey as captain and Victoria's highly-touted Jake Fraser-McGurk fresh from a fine half-century on his recent Sheffield Shield debut – the side is one of the least experienced in Youth ODI competition since the 2018 tournament and may take time to adapt to the global stage.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, who have fielded Under-19 sides in 30 and 34 ODIs respectively in preparation. The Tigers boast the fine top-order prospect Towhid Hridoy, who last year became the first ever player to register centuries in three consecutive Youth ODI contests, alongside a variety of seam and spin talent; Sri Lanka arrive having seen off England by 77 runs shortly before Christmas to claim a tri-series title in the West Indies – whose side failed to find form with the bat on slow-scoring home surfaces – with leg-spinner Kavindu Nadeeshan claiming three wickets on the day.
Rohail Nazir and Jesse Tashkoff will lead Pakistan and New Zealand through the tournament respectively
Elsewhere, hosts South Africa welcomed Zimbabwe, New Zealand and India to Durban for a short quadrangular series to kick off the new year, though Bryce Parsons' squad ultimately came a distant second to India in last week's final and suffered a surprise loss to Zimbabwe early on.
However, having slipped to 198 all out in the third-place playoff to Zimbabwe's spin-bowling all-rounders Wesley Madhevere and Milton Shumba – who feature in their third Under-19 World Cup tournaments in 2020 – it is the young New Zealand side with the greatest cause for concern.
Headlines ahead of the tournament have been stolen by 16-year-old Pakistan seamer Naseem Shah, who had initially been named to his country's 15-man squad before becoming the youngest paceman to claim a five-wicket haul in Test cricket. He will now remain in Lahore in anticipation of a possible Test series against Bangladesh later this month, however the squad remains in the capable hands of wicketkeeper Rohail Nazir – the team's most impressive player in 2018 – and still features prodigal talent in 14-year-old batsman Mohammad Shehzad.
Just one year older, Afghanistan's left-arm wrist-spinner Noor Ahmad will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Rashid Khan (2016) and Mujeeb Ur Rahman (2018) into the national setup. After an impressive fourth-place finish last time out, Test cricket's newest nation is led into the contest by Farhan Zakhail, a 16-year-old opener who already has three first-class tons and an average of 44.23 to his name at domestic level.
The Cricketer will be providing extensive coverage of this year's tournament, including news and features from inside the England camp and full coverage of selected matches.
Viewers in the UK will be able to follow the tournament live on Sky Sports, with sixteen games scheduled to air live across their network of channels. Among the eight group stage fixtures being televised are all three of England and India's outings, while eight as-yet-unknown knockout games will complete their programme.
Around the world, viewers will be able to follow the competition via their local ICC rights holders. These include Star Sports in India, SuperSport in South Africa, Fox Sports in Australia, PTV and Ten Sports in Pakistan and Willow TV in the USA.