England aim to end title drought at U-19 World Cup

Dubai, Jan 19 (IANS) England and the West Indies will start as favourites to advance to the Super League Stage from Group C at the expense of Zimbabwe and debutant Fiji in the Under-19 cricket World Cup, which will be played in Bangladesh from January 27 to February 14.

The biennial 16-nation tournament features nine Test-playing nations and seven qualifiers from the Associate and Affiliate Members. Teams have been divided into four groups with the top two in each advancing to the Super League quarter-finals and the other two qualifying for the Plate Championship.

England, seeking to end an 18-year drought after winning their only title way back in 1998 in South Africa, reached the semi-finals in the United Arab Emirates two years ago.

The side is led by Brad Taylor, an off-spinning all-rounder from Hampshire who is one of nine players in the squad to have played county cricket at the senior level. Taylor was appointed captain just ahead of the tri-series in Sri Lanka before Christmas last year, which India won, and he hopes to celebrate his elevation with a good performance in Bangladesh.

“Captaincy is something that came around pretty quickly for me, which makes it even more exciting. I had not captained the team until we played in Sri Lanka, but I really enjoyed that experience and we’re all excited about playing in a World Cup,” Taylor said.

“That tournament was really important for us. Conditions in Bangladesh are going to be very different from what we’re used to in England, so that allowed us to acclimatise to similar conditions and pitches. We improved with every game we played, and learned lots of lessons.”

Taylor also said he expected the West Indies to be the toughest opponent in the group, but refused to take victory against Zimbabwe and Fiji for granted.

“We play Fiji in our first game and we have to concentrate on winning that one first. We won’t be taking them lightly and the same goes for Zimbabwe in our last game. They have shown at the senior level recently that they can still be challenging opponents,” he said.

Taylor did not remember England’s victory way back in 1998 but sought to be inspired by the side that made the semi-finals two years ago.

“The team did brilliantly in Dubai when expectations before the tournament were not very high. But they put in some brilliant performances, especially beating India to get to the semi-finals. Hopefully we can do as well as them or even better.”

The West Indies will be captained by top-order batsman Shimron Hetmyer, who also took part in the 2014 tournament. He and fast bowler Alzarri Joseph are the only two players in the squad with first-class experience.

Legendary West Indies captain Clive Lloyd, who is now the chairman of selectors, was confident of a good performance by the teenagers.

“We have put together a group of players we believe will perform for the West Indies. We see them as future Test cricketers and this tournament is an opportunity for them to be exposed at the international level against strong opposition,” he said.

While Zimbabwe will be led by Brandon Mavuta, Fiji will make its maiden appearance in the tournament under Saimoni Tuitoga, who said his team is excited at the chance of playing a world event.

“We are honoured to be the first to represent the nation in a cricket World Cup. It’s not going to be easy but we know this opportunity is one that should not be taken for granted and want to make sure that we push the Tier One nations,” Tuitoga said.

Group C action kicks off on January 27 when England play Fiji in Chittagong. All eyes will be on the England-West Indies encounter which will take place on January 29, also in Chittagong.

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