A quiet beginning
The sun hadn't risen when the plane landed in Kuala Lumpur at 6.50 am, which was odd. What was perhaps odder was that the average Malaysian was oblivious to the fact that their country was hosting a 16-team international tournament, due to begin in a few days time. The businessman on the flight didn't know until he saw the headline about Pakistan's defeat in the in-flight paper. Badminton, he said, was Malaysia's biggest sport. The woman in an electrical appliance store was wide-eyed and said "Cricket World Cup? Here?" while the cashier at a fast food chain didn't know either, though his outlet was a five-minute walk from the hotel where the teams were staying.
It's the first time the Under-19 World Cup is being staged in a non-Test country and the build-up to it has been quiet. Perhaps that's the way it should be, to reduce the pressure and spotlight on the teenage contenders. I spotted two small banners advertising the tournament at the airport and none on the drive into Kuala Lumpur. But walking towards the team hotel, it was impossible to miss the decorations in red, pink and gold. False alarm. The dressing up was for the Chinese New Year and not the U-19 World Cup. There were no banners in the lobby either announcing that the cream of cricket's teenagers were in Malaysia.
Then Larry Gomes, the West Indies U-19 coach, walked by followed by a bunch of kids in maroon T-shirts and soon you could see several clusters of yellow, green, blue and red. The teams' itinerary was choc-a-bloc: they had net sessions, head-shot sessions and player-promo sessions, the kind in which Paul Collingwood introduces himself as "right-hand batsman and right-arm 'fast' bowler. Then they had to sign countless miniature bats for sponsors and, most importantly, attend a talk by the ICC's Anti-Corruption Security Unit where they were briefed on the dos and don'ts of the circuit. In between, the captains and coaches found time to speak to the media, albeit there were only two media people around. I was told that there was quite a crowd when Malaysia had their media stint on Tuesday.
The laidback atmosphere with free access to everyone was in stark contrast to a senior international fixture. And perhaps that's the way it should be for these players aren't senior cricketers yet and they will learn how to cope with the spotlight once it trains on them.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo