SA U19s looking to go one better
South Africa have twice been runners-up in the U19 Cricket World Cup but will be aiming to go all the way this year when the tournament gets underway in Queensland, Australia, on August 11.
South Africa finished second in 2001/02 and 2007/08 in a tournament that has been dominated by three-time winners Australia, Pakistan and India, who have both claimed the title twice. Sub-continent teams have traditionally been tough to beat and Ray Jennings' charges have been drawn in the same group as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Jennings, a vastly experienced coach at junior level, certainly did not over-state his team's chances when he spoke to supersport.com at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria on Wednesday.
"You never really know how good cricketers are when they're 18 or 19, so it's very difficult to say how good our team is. I know how volatile the U19 picture is around the world and the tournament is very unpredictable. Six or seven teams have a chance to win and it's all about how we handle the pressure on the day," Jennings said.
While Jennings is satisfied that his team has the talent to go that one step further than their predecessors, it all depends on what sort of conviction they take to the field.
"Consistency is the big issue and that's because you're dealing with guys who haven't totally matured yet. But we played Pakistan, who have beaten everyone else in the world, in January and we were 3-2 up in the series going into the final game, scored 280 and lost on the final ball. So according to that, we can definitely win the tournament," Jennings said.
It's also encouraging that Pakistan have just beaten Australia at home in a warm-up series, but the SA U19s have suffered a major blow before their departure for Queensland with an injury to fast bowler Rabian Engelbrecht, the only member of their squad who has previously played in a Junior World Cup.
"Rabian has a lower back strain and it's not looking good. I'll have to give him a fitness test before we leave tomorrow, but our most experienced player may well be out," Jennings said wistfully.
The best known member of the team is hard-hitting Highveld Lions wicketkeeper/batsman Quinton de Kock and Jennings called for greater application from the prodigiously-talented U19 Cricketer of the Year.
"In terms of his talent and ability, Quinton has not had the returns he should have. He's done very well for his franchise and he's a highly-skilled, quality cricketer who is able to turn games. But he needs to come to the party for us in the big games. He also needs to work harder on his wicketkeeping, which is merely adequate at U19 level," the renowned hard-taskmaster said.
There will be no easy introduction into the tournament either for South Africa, with Bangladesh their first opponents on August 12.
"Bangladesh are very difficult to beat, they're a lot better at U19 level than their senior team is. In fact, the sub-continent teams have always been a problem for us, they're very moody and unpredictable, with strange types of players that are very different to what the guys normally come up against. And we've lost to Sri Lanka three out of the last four times we've played them. It's the death pool with only two of us qualifying for the quarterfinals," Jennings warned.
Namibia are the other team in South Africa's group and the minnow neighbours should be seen off without too much difficulty, although the shock defeat to Nepal in 2005/06 will ensure the Junior Proteas are not complacent.
"We have a great team, we've had lots of preparation, we've bonded well and the team dynamics are good. It's a huge opportunity for us to showcase our skills on the world stage and we have the potential to take on and match any side," Chad Bowes, the captain, said.