Image Courtesy: ICC
Pakistan and Afghanistan will renew their rivalry when they face each other in the opening match of the ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup, which is set to kick start at the Cobham Oval in Whangarei on January 13.
Pakistan have been one of the better sides in the prestigious tournament over the years. They are the only ones to have won back-to-back titles, in 2004 and 2006, and have also finished runners-up on three other occasions. In the last edition, they lost to eventual champions the West Indies in the quarterfinals.
Hassan Khan, who topped Pakistan's batting charts with 293 runs in the Bangladesh event and made his first-class debut for Karachi Whites this season, will lead the squad in New Zealand, where the tournament is being held for the third time.
Pakistan could face a stiff challenge from Afghanistan after having lost to them in the final of the U19 Asia Cup.
Munir Riaz, who took eight wickets in that tournament, and Shaheen Afridi are the team's main bowlers.
But the player to watch in this group could be 16-year-old Afghanistan off-spinner Mujeeb Zadran, who not only grabbed five for 13 against Pakistan in that final, but also made a sensational entry into senior international cricket grabbing four for 24 against Ireland in Sharjah for a player of the match debut.
Before the Asia Cup, Afghanistan had remained unbeaten in the Asia Qualifiers to earn an entry into the U-19 CWC. Afghanistan had also made an impression in the 2016 World Cup where they won the plate final.
Leg-spinner Rashid Khan was one of the key members of that squad and is now one of the leading spinners of the world in ODIs and T20Is.
As for Sri Lanka, they will be led by ambidextrous spinner Kamindu Mendis. He was one of the players in focus at the 2016 U19 CWC, when Sri Lanka finished fourth after losing to Bangladesh by three wickets in the third-place play-off.
Like Mendis, Jehan Daniel was also a part of the team in Bangladesh. Sri Lanka did not qualify for the knockouts of the Asia Cup. Before that the team had travelled to Australia to play a bilateral series, which they lost 1-4. Also watched will be spinner Praveen Jayawickrama, the second-highest wicket-taker in the Asia Cup with 11 wickets.
Ireland made it after winning the European Qualifier. In a thrilling must-win game against Scotland, Ireland prevailed by five runs. Bundled out for 108, Ireland rallied around Joshua Little and Aaron Cawley, who picked up three wickets each, to dismiss Scotland for 103 in 34.5 overs.
Little was one of Ireland's finds in the 2016 World Cup in Bangladesh, where Ireland beat Canada and Scotland, and put up a good fight against India and New Zealand. He has already represented Ireland in senior international cricket.