The ACC U19 Eastern Region tournament kicks off in Malaysia next week. Nepal, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Bhutan, Myanmar, and China square off for the final place in the U19 Asia Cup, to be held in Sri Lanka in August 2019.
Nepal will be looking to redeem themselves after the narrowest of losses – by 1 run on Duckworth/Lewis – to the UAE saw them miss out on Asia’s one U19 world cup qualifier’s place. Rohit Kumar Paudel, who recently became international cricket’s youngest male half-centurion, once again leads the side, which also includes ACC U16 Eastern Region player of the tournament, Bishal Bikram KC. National squad players Aasif Sheikh and Sundeep Jora both miss out.
While Nepal will be favorites on paper, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore will all fancy their chances of an upset, especially with Kuala Lumpur’s daily afternoon downpours likely to bring D/L into play.
Malaysia beat Singapore by four wickets at the ICC U19 Qualifier and will be buoyed by key players’ participation in the recent T20 Ramadhan Peace Cup Super Series. Watch out for top order batsmen Amir Azim Abd Shukor and medium pacer Haiqal Mohd Khair.
Singapore bring a changed side to the tournament with a number of key players, including wicketkeeper Aman Desai, Raoul Sharma, and Ishaan Sawney all missing, but are nonetheless expected to make the semi-finals from a group containing Myanmar and China.
With the men’s national team losing ODI status in April, and on the look out for a new head coach, Hong Kong cricket is undoubtedly in transition. Relative to the success of the national team, the juniors have struggled in recent times. The U19s failed to qualify for the ICC U19 Asia qualifier in April and the U16s finished fourth at this year’s ACC U16 Eastern Region tournament.
Nonetheless, this Hong Kong U19 squad boasts a number of talented players who are in and around the national squad, including captain Adit Gorawara, Kalhan Marc Challu and Nasrulla Rana. Their group match against Malaysia promises to be close.
Of the remaining four sides, Thailand has traditionally been the strongest. One difference in preparation has been the inclusion of a ‘Thai Giants’ team in the Bangkok Premier League, likely aimed at giving the juniors sustained exposure in the country’s strongest league on Bangkok’s turf wickets.
Although Kongkidakon Rueangrotchanachai scored a fighting half-century, and Yodsak Saranonnakkun bowled two tidy spells, heavy warm up losses to Hong Kong and an MCA President’s U19 XI do not bode well for Thailand’s semifinals chances.
For Bhutan, Myanmar, and China, this tournament is another opportunity to play competitive international cricket on high quality turf wickets.
The tournament begins on Tuesday with Malaysia playing Thailand at Kinrara Oval and Singapore taking on China at TPCA Oval. For updates check out the Asian Cricket Council’s website here.