LAHORE - Pakistan will take on Afghanistan in the opening game of the ICC U-19 World Cup Cricket Tournament at the John Blank Oval on the Sunshine Coast on Saturday.

Pakistan have been placed in Group B along with Afghanistan, New Zealand and Scotland. Afghanistan will be in pressure against Pakistan as they were beaten by the Pakistanis in the U-19 Asia Cup held in Malaysia and jointly won by Pakistan and India. Along with ICC’s 10 full members, the U-19 Cricket World Cup 2012 will see six qualifiers – Namibia, Afghanistan, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Ireland and Scotland.   Australia will defend the title they won in Lincoln, New Zealand, in 2010.  Pakistan won the tournaments in 2004 and 2006 in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, respectively.

India have also won the tournament twice – in 2002 in Sri Lanka under M Kaif and in 2008 under the leadership of Virat Kohli – while England’s Owais Shah put his hands on the trophy in Johannesburg when South Africa staged the event in 1998. Pakistan, who also reached the finals of the inaugural event in Australia in 1988 and then again in 2010 in New Zealand only to lose on both the occasions to Australia.

Defending champion Australia apart from winning the 2010 edition also won the inaugural one in 1988, and in 2002. They’ve never lost a final so far. India and Pakistan have each won two World Cup finals, while England have won one. South Africa have reached two finals, but lost them both. Pakistan having good players in its fold will depend on opener Babar Azam and Sami Aslam to provide fine start to the team and later Imamul Haq, Umar Waheed and Saad will keep the momentum going to make a big score for the team.

The side will be led by top order batsman Babar Azam who has played four first-class matches in which he has scored 106 runs. Babar is the only first-class player in the side that includes wrist spinner Usman Qadir, son of former leg-spinner Abdul Qadir.

In preparations for the U-19 World Cup to be held in Queensland (Australia), the Pakistan Cricket Board arranged a series against the hosts prior to the commencement of the tournament that was won by the visitors 2-1 series win.Pakistan team played two warmup matches one they lost to England and second they won against Papua New Guinea. One of the stronger squads at the tournament, the Pakistani U-19 team will go into the World Cup as genuine title contenders.

Meanwhile, all-rounder Javed Ahmadi will lead Afghanistan while batsman Shabir Noori, who scored two fifties in the recently-concluded Under-19 Asia Cup, will be the vice-captain.  Afghanistan had impressed in the Asia Cup in June, making it to the semi-finals alongside India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, by  beating Bangladesh. Meanwhile, talking to Australian correspondent at the Gold Coast, the Pakistan U-19 Manager Haroon Rasheed was confident about his team’s capabilities, preparation for the tournament and also has a message for fans following their progress. “The best part of the current Pakistan U19 side is their all-round ability. We have good fast bowlers and spinners, and depth in the batting. The boys are doing a great job; they are hungry for success and are very confident in their abilities which is reflected in the manner they are playing,” Haroon said. “We also have some really good fast bowlers like all-rounder Ehsan Adil, who can hit the ball hard and bowls well. Zia-ul-Haq is well-known - a quality left arm medium-fast bowler.”

First round matches schedule:

Aug 11

Australia    v    England;

Zimbabwe    v    PNG;

Sri Lanka    v    Bangladesh

Pakistan    v    Afghanistan.

Aug 12

West Indies    v    India

England    v    Ireland;

South Africa    v    Bangladesh

New Zealand    v    Scotland.

Aug 13

Australia    v    Nepal;

West Indies    v    PNG;

Sri Lanka    v    Namibia;

Pakistan    v    Scotland.

Aug 14

India    v    Zimbabwe;

Australia    v    Ireland;

South Africa    v    Namibia;

New Zealand    v    Afghanistan.

Aug 15

Nepal    v    Ireland;

Sri Lanka    v    South Africa;

Scotland    v    Afghanistan.

Aug 16

England    v    Nepal;

India    v    PNG;

West Indies    v    Zimbabwe

Bangladesh    v    Namibia

Pakistan    v    New Zealand