Scotland eye rusty New Zealand
Of all the Full Member nations at the Under-19 World Cup in Australia, New Zealand have had the least international experience since the previous tournament in 2010. And unlike South Africa, who also didn't tour extensively, New Zealand's cricketers have not had an extensive preparatory camp at home. The last week, spent getting used to off-season conditions in Queensland, has been the crux of their immediate preparation.
They lost their first warm-up match comprehensively to South Africa before getting past Nepal by 19 runs in the second. They had two unofficial practice games before that as well and won both, against West Indies and Scotland. Considering their senior squad went to the Caribbean without a prior training camp, it was perhaps unfeasible for the Under-19s to expect to have one.
"We've just come out of winter, so that's been a challenge," their coach Matt Horne said of their preparations. "We had selected a wider squad, probably 18 months ago, to work towards this, based around camps, players working in their own state associations. We had a trial process throughout the summer, which finished with selection for a [Quadrangular] series last April in Townsville. We adjusted programmes [to improve performance] and the players went back to their own associations and worked throughout the winter."
New Zealand are familiar with Townsville, where the business end of the World Cup will be held. They were here for a Quadrangular Series involving Australia, England and India in April, when they won one game and lost four. To get to Townsville again, however, they'll have to finish in the top two of their group in Buderim, which is based further south in the Sunshine Coast.
"Ideally, yes," said Horne, when asked if New Zealand could have done with more exposure. "We've had winter and haven't played for four months. We're quite well resourced by New Zealand Cricket but we obviously can't compete with the resources available to some countries. We're hoping to put a programme in place that is more robust, that allows regular series against different countries."
New Zealand's tournament opener on Sunday is against Scotland, a team that failed to make it to the previous two Under-19 World Cups but have arrived in Australia by winning 13 out of 14 qualifying matches.
"This Under-19 team has had a couple of overseas tours over the last couple of years," Craig Wright, who's coached Scotland Under-19 for five years, said. "Obviously finances are tight, but we're certainly trying to build on what we can do and the experiences we're trying to give these guys from a coaching and competitive point of view, in terms of touring and getting them to play matches at a higher level."
Scotland had announced their World Cup squad as early as June and at the time Wright had said that players who "made a real contribution to the success of the team up to this point" had missed out. When asked how large the pool of Under-19 cricketers in the country was, he said: "Cricket's probably a slightly more popular game in Scotland than people give it credit for. But when it comes to picking national teams, we're probably picking from pools of maybe 20 players who are good enough to play at the international level. There's obviously a lot more players who are that age who play club cricket.
"This Under-19 team, we picked from about 18 or 19 who I felt were good enough to be involved here. So we were picking from a wider pool. It wasn't a case of picking the best 10 or 11 and a few making up the numbers. We actually had two or three guys who were a little unlucky not to get involved in the squad. It tends to fluctuate; some years you have more strength and depth than others."
Scotland have been training for an extra week on the Sunshine Coast because their summer at home was wet and hindered preparations. They were bruised by Bangladesh in the first warm-up, but their top-order fought hard in the defeat against Australia, with Mathew Cross scoring a century.
"We've come here focused on trying to play good cricket, trying to be competitive," Wright said. "We have emphasised the point that the lads should try to enjoy the experience and learn from it. Hopefully the two things will go hand in hand. We hope some of them, as many as possible, go on to represent Scotland at senior level. But it's very important they take everything they can from this experience, both on and off the field."
Scotland beat Afghanistan in the qualifiers for the World Cup, so they'll be confident of getting past them again. Pakistan will probably be beyond them, so that leaves New Zealand. An upset on Sunday could make Scotland's campaign.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo