|Under 19 World Cup: New Zealand, January 2010|
The past proves that upsets are on the cards
History may not offer much encouragement for the six Associate and Affiliate qualifiers as they prepare for the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand later this month, but it does provide a little: their predecessors have registered a total of eleven victories over Full members since the competition was introduced in its present form in 1998.
Bangladesh, still Associate members of the ICC at that time, reinforced their country’s case for admission to Full membership at that tournament in South Africa, beating England by three wickets in the group stage, and going on to win the Plate Final by six wickets despite an undefeated 141 by a promising young West Indian opener called Chris Gayle.
Mohammad al-Sahariar was the architect of their victory with 90 not out and Mehrab Hossain contributed 63 in a century stand for the third wicket, while another future Test player in Mushfiqur Rahman took three for 48.
Two years later Bangladesh were on the brink of entering the Test arena, and although they lost the Plate Final this time, to a South African side led by Graeme Smith, they had beaten Zimbabwe on the way.
Now it was Nepal who took over the role of principal giant-killers. The biggest sensation of the 2002 tournament in New Zealand was their 30-run defeat of Pakistan, Shakti Gauchan and Sanjam Regmi collecting three wickets each as the Pakistanis slumped to 121 all out when chasing a modest 151.
Nor was that the only upset of the competition: Namibia shocked Sri Lanka by bowling them out for 141 and registering a four-wicket victory, and Canada almost turned the tables on Bangladesh, Ash Bagai making an undefeated 82 as the scores finished level on 213.
Few matches achieve that kind of excitement, but in 2004 Nepal were responsible for another thriller: chasing a South African total of 156, they made it by one wicket with two balls to spare, with Gauchan – now the Nepali skipper – hitting a fine not-out half-century to clinch the victory.
And two years later, this time in Sri Lanka, the Nepalis repeated their win over South Africa, winning the Plate semi-final in a match which was, unbelievably, equally exciting. Batting first, Nepal made 214 for eight, and with Basanta Regmi taking three for 31 with his left-arm spin, the South Africans finished just two runs short.
That took Nepal into the Plate Final, where they produced another upset, emulating the achievement by Bangladesh eight years earlier by beating New Zealand to take the minor trophy. It had seemed unlikely when they were 148 for eight chasing the Kiwis’ 204, but Regmi hit a 73-ball 66 and the final pair reached their target with two deliveries remaining.
Those were the only defeats of a Full member by an Associate in 2006, but Ireland produced their best Under-19 World Cup performance to date to give England a real scare, Niall McDarby taking six for 50 and Gary Wilson hitting 69 as the Irish were dismissed for 210 off the last ball of their allotted overs, four runs short of the English total.
One of the features of the 2008 competition in Malaysia, the first Under-19 World Cup to be held in an Associate country, was the extremely disappointing level of the Zimbabweans, which further illustrated the desperate state of cricket there. They managed only one win in the entire tournament, and were defeated by the hosts in the group phase, Nepal in the Plate quarter-finals, and then, after gaining their revenge over Malaysia in the semi-finals of the contest for 13th place, lost to Ireland in their final game.
Nepal, of course, have failed to qualify this time, having been beaten by Afghanistan in the semi-finals of the Asian Elite tournament and thus missing out on the global qualifier. But Ireland will again be there, along with Afghanistan, Canada, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea and the USA.
All of them will be keen to follow in the footsteps of their giant-killing predecessors and prove that at youth level, too, the gap between the big boys and the new kids on the block is steadily narrowing.