Georgetown (Guyana): Record four-time champions India will be aiming to maintain their envious record and unearth a plethora of talent along the way when they begin their U-19 World Cup campaign against South Africa here on Saturday.
Expectations will be high from the likes of Harnoor Singh, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, skipper Yash Dhull and Ravi Kumar, who have already shown glimpses of their potential in tournaments leading into the World Cup.
India flew into the Caribbean straight after their Asia Cup triumph and tuned up for the ICC event with wins over hosts West Indies and Australia in the warm-up games.
India have been the most successful team in the tournament’s history and getting into the final of the last three editions is a testimony to their remarkable consistency.
No player from the 2020 batch, which finished runners-up to first-time champions Bangladesh, has gone on to play for India and only time will tell if someone from the class of 2022 reaches the highest level.
The current batch doesn’t possess prodigies like Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill (2018 pass outs) but some of the players have already attracted attention.
Jalandhar-born left-hand opener Harnoor is expected to score a bagful of runs in the tournament, much like what Yashasvi Jaiswal did in the previous edition.
The 18-year-old was India’s leading run-getter in the Asia Cup with 251 runs in five games and struck an unbeaten 100 against Australia in the team’s final warm-up game on January 11.
Right-arm pacer Hangargekar, who has played senior cricket for Maharashtra, is another player to watch out for. He impressed with his raw pace in the Asia Cup, picking up eight wickets, and is also a handy batter down the order.
Left-arm pacer Ravi Kumar will also be expected to provide timely breakthroughs and he will be high on confidence following a four-wicket haul against the Australians.
Skipper Dhull, who is a highly rated batter in Delhi cricket circles, did not do anything noticeable in the Asia Cup but his back-to-back fifties in the warm-up games show he is in good touch.
All-rounder Raj Bawa, who bowls right-arm medium pace and bats left-handed, will also play a crucial role for the team. Head coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar spoke about India’s rich legacy in the competition ahead of the South Africa game.
India are placed in Group B alongside South Africa, Ireland and Uganda. Top two teams qualify for the knockouts. The game against South Africa is likely to be the toughest one for India.
The 2014 edition winners South Africa’s chances of success on home soil were ended at the quarter-final stage two years ago.
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