Under-19 World Cup January 12, 2006

Australia on a mission

Moises Henriques, Australia's captain, believes his side has the talent and ability to succeed © Getty Images
Australia are a team on a mission going into next month's Under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka.

After winning the trophy in New Zealand in 2002, they fell to earth in spectacular style two years ago in Bangladesh by failing to qualify for the second - Super League - stage of the tournament. A humiliating defeat against Zimbabwe (when they were bowled out for 73 in 19 overs) relegated them to the Plate competition. But having reached the final in that consolation event they then lost to the hosts as well.

It meant Australia went home empty-handed and with their tails well and truly between their legs and for current captain Moises Henriques, the one survivor of that side, a repeat performance in February is not on the agenda. "Our senior side dominates world cricket and so should we," he said. "We certainly have the talent and ability in this U-19 side to do so and we want to win the World Cup. It is what we have been preparing for (over) the last 18 months."

The talent Henriques referred to will certainly be necessary if Australia are to improve on their 2004 showing because they face a tough assignment just to get to the Super League stage this time around.

Their failings in Bangladesh meant they are not seeded for the 2006 event and that has left them in Group B, a group that also includes South Africa and the West Indies, as well as tournament newcomers the USA. As only two sides can move forward and retain a chance of winning the tournament, it means Australia will have to hit the ground running if they are to progress as, in a potentially tight group, even one loss could prove fatal.

One possible advantage for this Australian side is that, for several of their squad at least, playing on the sub-continent with all the challenges it presents, will not be a new experience.

Vice-captain Aaron Finch, Jackson Bird, Usman Khawaja, Jack McNamara, Tom Stray and David Warner, as well as Henriques, were all part of the U-19 side to tour India last September. They lost a five-match one-day series 4-1 but a glance at the scorecards shows the series was closer than that final margin indicates. And Australia's performance was put into perspective just two months later when India went on to win the six-Nation Afro-Asia U-19 Cup.

Given all those factors, what are the expectations for this Australian side? Realistic but also high could be the best way to summarise the thoughts of coach Brian McFadyen.

"We are very aware that playing on the sub-continent presents many challenges that we would not normally be exposed to," he said. "But we would expect to play off in the last four if we play near our potential."

And as for the opposition, both McFadyen and Henriques prefer to focus on getting their own game in order. "We are aware we have to improve markedly to compete (with India) and we will do some research on our opponents," said McFadyen. "But most of our focus will be on making sure the Australian team can perform at its best."

Henriques added: "I am willing to find out information about any players in (opposing) teams but more of our focus will be on what we have to do. If we do our things right, we will win games."

The Australia squad includes six players from New South Wales, which won the 2005 Commonwealth Bank U-19 Championship in December, the annual domestic competition for players at this age-group. Those six players include Khawaja, who captained Australia in India last September. A left-handed batsman, he was player of the U-19 Championship with 396 runs in seven innings. Also included in the squad is left-arm spinner Jon Holland, from Victoria. Holland was the leading wicket-taker in that Championship with 20 wickets at an average of 11.75, including 7 for 37 against South Australia.

Australia Moises Henriques (capt), Aaron Finch (Vice-captain), Jackson Bird, Tom Cooper, Ben Cutting, Jon Holland, Simon Keen, Usman Khawaja, Jack McNamara, Adam Ritchard, William Sheridan, Tom Stray, Matthew Wade and David Warner.

Manager - Geoff Tamblyn, coach - Brian McFadyen, assistant coach - Matthew Mott, physiotherapist -Max Pfitzner.