The Asian Cricket Council (ACC) U-19 Asia Cup is a rare gift to the emerging cricket world. Every year – for the last three anyway – it pits the region’s most talented ‘Associate’ cricketers against the world’s best. Whereas teams in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and the East Asia Pacific must scrap for a coveted spot in the U-19 World Cup for game time against the big guns, teams like Malaysia, and Hong Kong have each had the opportunity to play India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka without really coming close to world cup qualification. For perennial challengers Nepal and the UAE the ACC U-19 Asia Cup is an opportunity to spring an upset or two, and blood their best players for spots in senior national teams.
This year Nepal, UAE, and first-timers Kuwait joined the five test-playing nations in Sri Lanka. Kuwait faced the daunting prospect of India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in Group A, whilst Nepal and UAE would have fancied pinching a semi-final spot from Sri Lanka or Bangladesh out of Group B.
As it turned out none of the three challengers managed an upset, but there were several good moments and individual performances of note. In a truncated 23-over-a-side game against India, Kuwait’s openers put on more than fifty for the first wicket, and took their side to a respectable 7-110. Ansh Tandon of the UAE hit 100* against Sri Lanka in a 52-run loss. Pawan Sarraf, Sundeep Jora, and Rohit Kumar Paudel all hit half centuries, taking Nepal to 250+ scores in two of their three games.
These batting performances are a resounding positive for Nepali national team desperate for an injection of new batting talent ahead of a long Cricket World Cup League 2 Campaign starting in December. Although the UAE showed glimpses of their potential against Sri Lanka, their 160-run loss to Nepal proved that there is room for significant improvement before the U-19 World in January/February 2020. For Kuwait, the challenge will be to ensure that players such as Meet Bhavsar and Abdul Sadiq can be enticed into committing their cricketing to the Gulf nation, as players such as Tamoor Sajjad have done for Qatar. Much of course will depend on how the national team and the high performance program there continues developing after a relatively successful 2019.
Team of the Tournament (from Kuwait, Nepal, UAE):
Meet Bhavsar (Kuwait) – WK
3 games 62 runs at 20.6;1 stumping
The fifteen-year old left-hander who made his debut for the national team in January got starts at the top of the order in all three matches, including a solid 28 (41) with three fours and a six against India. Bhavsar makes the side for his obvious talent more than anything else.
Pawan Sarraf (Nepal)
3 games 85 runs at 28.3; 3 wickets at 34.6
Sarraf takes the other opener’s slot because his 81 off 109 against Bangladesh demonstrated the ability to go big against quality opposition. Three wickets with his off-breaks means that he pips Rit Gautam.
Ansh Tandon (UAE)
3 games 121 runs at 40.3
Tandon hit a mature, unbeaten 100 to keep the UAE in the game against Sri Lanka. Performances like this by associate cricketers against test teams are few and far between. Tandon will be a mainstay for the side their U-19 World Cup campaign.
Rohit Kumar Paudel (Nepal) – Captain
3 games 128 runs at 42.6
Paudel will be disappointed that he strong starts (47 & 67) in two of Nepal’s three games did not lead to big scores, but the most experienced player across the three Associate teams marshalled his team well, including to a well deserved victory against the UAE.
Sundeep Jora (Nepal)
2 games 104 runs at 52
Jora showed just why he has been picked in Nepal’s T20 national squad for tours to Singapore and Oman in two powerful, stroke-filled knocks. Jora’s 56 off 37 against Bangladesh batting at six was particularly exciting for a team that has long struggled for firepower.
Osama Hassan (UAE)
3 games 128 runs at 42.6
Hassan saved UAE from embarrassing capitulation against Bangladesh and then backed it up with 55 at a strike rate of 119 against Sri Lanka. Hassan is another talented batsman who will be crucial to UAE’s batting at the World Cup.
Abdul Sadiq (Kuwait)
3 games 69 runs at 23; 5 wickets at 24.6
Sadiq was Kuwait’s captain, top scorer, and top wicket taker with his leg-breaks. At seventeen, he showed maturity in taking on the captaincy and performing at such a high profile tournament. Sadiq is yet to make his national team debut but cannot be far.
Rashid Khan (Nepal)
3 games 65 runs at 32.5 (including one NO*); 5 wickets at 19.1
The other Rashid Khan takes the first opening bowler’s spot. Khan struck early against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and also contributed with handy lower order runs.
Sanchit Sharma (UAE)
3 games 15 runs at 7.5; 5 wickets at 19.1
Sharma bowled a tight, wicket-taking spell against Nepal (3-26 off 10) in a high scoring game and had an overall economy of 4.03 even though UAE were defending small scores in two off three games.
Sagar Dhakal (Nepal)
3 games 4 wickets at 26
Dhakal is the lone left-arm spinner in the squad, and although he only took four wickets, he bowled tight, unwavering lines and lengths against Bangladesh (0-35 off 10) and accounted for three of UAE’s top four to sink their chances of chasing Nepal’s total in that game.
Rishabh Mukherjee (UAE)
3 games 6 wickets at 21
Mukherjee was the UAE’s top wicket taker, and took wickets at crucial times in all three of UAE’s matches.