Bangladesh U-19 captain Mehedi Hasan hopes to 'fulfil expectations'
"What you are saying about pressure, I am hearing this for the first time."
Mehedi Hasan, the Bangladesh Under-19 captain, had a straight face while saying this, but quickly broke into a giggle. Either he hid the sarcasm of the comment well or cloistered himself from social and mainstream media over the last few weeks.
The moment, though, captured the unusual pressure and expectations on Bangladesh for an age-level tournament. Bangladesh may be buoyed by home advantage, but the fans expect the team to go past the quarter-finals at least.
Bangladesh's training session on the eve of their opening match against South Africa bubbled with energy and excitement. In between the serious stints of batting and bowling, they played around with attempts to take boundary-line catches. They even involved their team consultant Stuart Law in their horseplay. The players were admonished by their head coach Mizanur Rahman a couple of times, but it was all in good fun.
The Under-19 World Cup is essentially a springboard for players to make it to the biggest level. While Bangladesh are keen to express themselves through their well-trained skills, they also face the challenge of dealing with heightened expectations.
Mehedi has expressed happiness at people considering Bangladesh as contenders and hoped to "fulfil the expectations."
"I like the fact that everyone thinks we can reach a good position," Mehedi said. "Everyone is expecting that we will be on top, and beat the big nations. We know our standard, so we will try to fulfil the expectations. We just have to play our normal game. The team is very excited because we have prepared for this tournament. The real test starts tomorrow. If we can do well tomorrow, our hard work will be rewarded."
Mizanur, though, played down the pressure and expectations, and reckoned that Bangladesh's record against South Africa held them in good stead for the tournament opener. Bangladesh had defeated South Africa 11 times out of 14 attempts in Youth ODIs in 2015.
"There is no pressure around us," Mizanur said. "We have been working towards this tournament for the last 18 months. We just don't want the players to lose focus now.
"We know everything about them. Our bowlers will know where to bowl to their batsmen. We hardly knew anything about England apart from the general information. So playing against South Africa will be easier. We beat them 5-2 in their conditions and 6-1 at home. We will be ahead in terms of mentality and preparations."
South Africa captain Tony de Zorzi, meanwhile, has said that his team is in a "good space." The defending champions have also roped in former India batsman Sridharan Sriram as a batting consultant to counter spin. Sriram, who had served as a coaching consultant with the Australia A team, will work with the senior team in the upcoming World T20 in India.
"We are very comfortable," Zorzi said. "We are in a good space as a team and quite confident. They [Bangladesh] are a very talented side, as are we. They have to play well to beat us and I think they know that.
"We have played couple of warm-up games and we have [former India batsman] Sriram helping us as batting consultant against spin. Lot of the guys have adapted to the conditions having played here before. There's no fear of playing spin."
Five members of the Bangladesh team, including Mehedi, had played in the 2014 World Cup in the UAE, but this is set to be a different challenge and experience.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84