Defending champion India and two-time former winner Pakistan are favourites to progress to the Super League quarterfinals from Group ‘A’ in the ICC Under-19 World Cup that will be staged across the UAE from February 14 to March 1.

India, to be led by Maharashtra top-order batsman Vijay Zol, along with Australia, are the most successful side at this level having won the tournament three times.

Mohammad Kaif inspired India to the title in Sri Lanka in 2000, while Virat Kohli led from the front in Malaysia when India regained the title in 2008.

“As the defending champion, India will be marked out from the start as the team to beat. The tournament format is very exciting, and apart from its arch-rival Pakistan, India also has two competent and motivated sides in Scotland and PNG to contend with,” India captain Vijay Zol said.

However, Pakistan remains the only country to have won the tournament back-to-back. Khalid Latif led Pakistan to the title in 2004 in Bangladesh, while Sarfraz Ahmed’s boys retained the crown when the event was staged in Sri Lanka in 2006.

No added pressure

Previewing the match against Pakistan, Zol said: “While it is always special and different to play against Pakistan as opposed to playing against anyone else, we won’t feel any added pressure in that game.”

“Having beaten them in the recent ACC U19 Asia Cup final in the UAE recently, we feel we may just have the psychological edge in that match,” he added.

This month, Pakistan will be led by Lahore’s opener Sami Aslam when the green shirts join India and Australia in their quest to reclaim the title and become the only sides to have won the tournament three times each.

The two sides will go head to head at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on February 15 in a match that is expected to decide which side tops the group.

Also in Group ‘A’ are Scotland and Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Scotland, which reached the plate championship semifinal in 2012, has qualified from the Europe Region while PNG will feature in its seventh tournament after defeating Vanuatu by 45 runs in the final of the East Asia-Pacific U-19 Championship in July 2013.

PNG first appeared in the 1998 edition but its best performances came in 2008 and 2010, when it reached the plate semifinals. In Townsville, PNG finished 14th.

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