The inaugural Under-19 World Cup - titled the Youth World Cup - was the brainchild of the Australian board as part of the country's bicentenary celebrations and was held at a number of picturesque venues in South Australia and Victoria. The seven Test-playing countries plus an ICC Associates XI took part in a full round-robin format. Australia lost only one match, their final round-robin game against Pakistan by which time they had qualified for the semis. They went on to beat Pakistan by five wickets in the final, thanks to an unbeaten hundred from Brett Williams.
England and West Indies made up the last four, but India were the real disappointments. After opening with a good win against England, they suffered hefty defeats in four matches to be knocked out early.
1997-98 (South Africa)
Runners-up: New Zealand
England were the unexpected winners of the Under-19 World Cup in South Africa. The only previous tournament of its kind was held ten years earlier and the ICC announced that it was to be a biennial event henceforth.
Support for many of the matches was good, largely because of the efforts of the various provincial unions, who encouraged local schoolchildren to attend. India's game against Pakistan in Durban attracted a crowd of more than 10,000 and the final in Johannesburg between England and New Zealand was watched by about 6,000. Had South Africa qualified, their presence would have doubled the numbers at least.
In addition to the nine Test-playing nations, there were teams from Bangladesh, Kenya and Scotland, the three countries who had qualified for the adult World Cup in 1999, plus Ireland, Denmark, Namibia and Papua New Guinea. The teams were divided into four pools, named after famous cricketers, and the top two sides from each progressed to two Super League pools, whose winners advanced to the final. In order to give everyone a decent amount of cricket, the non-qualifiers competed in a Plate League, won by Bangladesh, who beat West Indies in the final. West Indies failed to qualify for the Super League after a fiasco concerning the composition of their squad - they arrived with seven players who contravened the age restrictions for the tournament. The Super League, in which every game was covered live on South African satellite television, also threw up a number of shocks and tense finishes; both pools came down to net run-rate at the finish. England, from being down and almost out, beat Pakistan - who surprisingly lost all three of their games - but lost a rain-affected match to India. Australia had beaten India and Pakistan and were favourites to reach the final. Only a massive defeat by England could deny them: but that is precisely what they suffered. In front of a crowd of about 6,000 at Newlands, they were bowled out for 147. New Zealand joined England in the final, where a century from England's Stephen Peters won the day.
1999-2000 (Sri Lanka)
Runners-up: Sri Lanka
Plate: South Africa
To the disappointment of a large crowd at Colombo's SSC, Sri Lanka fell at the final hurdle in a final dominated by India. The winners remained unbeaten throughout, and destroyed Australia by 170 runs in the semi-final to underline their supremacy. In the other semi-final, Sri Lanka delighted a crowd of 5000 at Galle by beating Pakistan. The fact that three of the four semi-finalists were from Asia and so more attuned to the conditions was coincidental - they played the better cricket and, in Pakistan's case, had a very experienced squad. England, the defending champions, were most disappointing, and they won only one match against a Test-playing country, and that a last-ball victory over Zimbabwe. South Africa, one of the favourites, were desperately unlucky to be eliminated after three no-results gave them three points while Nepal, with four points courtesy of one win over Kenya, went through to the Super League instead. The lack of any reserve day was a major flaw of organisation. The format of the tournament was as in 1997-98, with four groups of four and then a Super League and final. The nine Test-playing countries were joined by seven others - Bangladesh, Kenya, Ireland, Namibia, Holland, Nepal and a team from the Americas.
2001-02 (New Zealand)
Runners-up: South Africa
The third Under-19 World Cup only confirmed Australia's dominance of the game, and from their opening match, when they obliterated Kenya by 430 runs, through to their comprehensive victory over South Africa in the final, they were never threatened. Their captain, Cameron White, was singled out for praise for his leadership, and he chipped in with 423 runs at 70.50. And they didn't rely on pace either, playing only two seamers and four slow bowlers, with Xavier Doherty, a slow left-armer, leading the wicket-takers with 16 at 9.50 and all without a single wide. In contrast, India, the holders, underperformed in their semi-final against South Africa, a team they had easily beaten a week or so earlier. They also suffered embarrassing defeats to neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh. Pakistan, however, provided the main upset when they lost to Nepal by 30 runs, and Nepal also gave England a few uneasy moments. England again were poor, failing to maintain any consistency, which was surprising for a side on £5000 a head. No other team received more than expenses. Zimbabwe easily won the plate competition, with their expected opponents, Bangladesh, beaten in the semi-final by Nepal. Tatenda Taibu, Zimbabwe's captain, was Man of the Series for his 250 runs and 12 wickets, not to mention his wicketkeeping in between bowling stints!
Runners-up: West Indies
The decision to award the tournament to Bangladesh proved inspired as more than 350,000 spectators saw the 54 matches. And the competition ended with a close final between the two best teams - West Indies and Pakistan - and a 30,000 crowd acclaiming the victorious Pakistanis almost as their own. The local fans revelled as hosts. The players, from the ten Test countries and six other nations, were feted wherever they went, and the appetite for cricket was remarkable: even Zimbabwe v Canada sold out. The shock was the elimination from the main competition of holders Australia, bowled out for 73 and beaten by Zimbabwe in the group stage when Tinashe Panyangara took 6 for 31, the second-best figures in the competition's history. And Australia then lost to Bangladesh in the plate final amid thumping drums and gleeful celebrations. The downside was the quality of the cricket, which was often mediocre on some indifferent pitches, and the reporting of six unidentified bowlers for having suspect actions. Pakistan would have finished unbeaten but for a hiccup against England - when both teams had already qualified for the semis. England reached the last four, which was progress, and Alistair Cook looked a class apart. But they came unstuck against West Indies' spinners in the semi-final. India completed the semi-finalists. Dhawan and Suresh Raina were the backbone of a strong batting line-up, and Raina's 90 from just 38 balls against the hapless Scots was as brutal an innings as one will see at any level. Both looked international-class already, though faced with a tough task breaking into their senior side's formidable top order. The captain Ambati Rayudu had been hailed as the next great batting hope, having scored a century and a double in a first-class match at the age of 17. But he did not score the runs promised and was banned by the referee John Morrison from the semi-final after allowing a funereal over-rate during the Super League win against Sri Lanka: eight overs were bowled in the first 50 minutes.
2005-06 (Sri Lanka)
This tournament was always going to struggle to live up to the overwhelming response that greeted the previous event in Bangladesh. Despite free tickets the matches were sparsely attended even when the home side were in action, but it shouldn't detract from an impressive two weeks which finished with Pakistan securing their second consecutive title in an extraordinary final against India at the Premadasa Stadium. Pakistan crumbled to 109, but in a thrilling passage of play reduced India to 9 for 6. Jamshed Ahmed and Anwar Ali, two of the success stories of the tournament, did the damage and there was no way back for India who fell 38 runs short. These two teams and Australia were the pick of the sides and along with England - who surpassed expectation to reach the semi-finals after beating a talented Bangladesh side - made up the final four. A number of players caught the eye, notably Australia captain Moises Henriques, the Indian batsmen Cheteshwar Pujara - the tournament's leading run-scorer - and team-mate Rohit Sharma, along with legspinner Piyush Chawla, who a few weeks later made his Test debut against England. However, perhaps the best story of the tournament was Nepal claiming the Plate trophy after a thrilling victory against New Zealand having also beaten South Africa during the event.
Runners-up: South Africa
Plate: West Indies
It was the first time the tournament was held in an Associate Member country. Along with hosts Malaysia, 15 other teams battled in 44 matches packed into 15 days across three cities. India, still smarting from the loss in the previous edition had reason to be upbeat with Tanmay Srivastava, a mature batsman who eventually finished as the tournament's leading run-getter, in their ranks. Australia and England had forgettable campaigns, coming up short against the big teams after making mincemeat of the minnows. Defending champions Pakistan were fortuitous to reach the semi-finals as their batsmen never really got going and, against South Africa in the semi-finals, their luck finally ran out while chasing 261. New Zealand, boosted by Man of the Tournament Tim Southee, were impressive before losing to India in a narrow run-chase under lights and cloudy skies in the other semi-final. South Africa's captain Wayne Parnell had played a major role in ensuring their passage to the summit clash, picking up the most wickets in the tournament en route. But they had lost to India in the group stages and lightning did strike twice. India, after being bowled out for 159, emerged triumphant by 12 runs under the D/L method and were crowned champions for the second time.
The tournament was hosted in New Zealand after the ICC took it away from Kenya on the flimsiest of reasons which ridiculed its own mission to spread the game. Kenya were further kicked by the ICC as their side was not allowed to participate as it had not won the African qualifying event - a weakened side had been fielded as at the time, as hosts, they did not need to qualify. As it was, New Zealand did a decent job but crowds were dismal and the group stages were as tediously predictable as in the senior tournament, with the better-funded big nations dominating. South Africa did beat Australia in a good match but a dead rubber. The competition came alive in the quarter-finals as West Indies beat England and Sri Lanka defeated South Africa. The best tie of the competition came when Pakistan beat fierce rivals India by two wickets with three balls remaining in a low-scoring match. The final between Australia and Pakistan was a rematch of the first tournament, and Australia won by 25 runs in a game where fortunes ebbed and flowed throughout. It was a good end to a fairly forgettable fortnight.
Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo
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