ICC Under-19 World Cup 2010 December 19, 2009

Chilly weather will test India - Chandrakant Pandit

Chandrakant Pandit, India's Under-19 coach, has said his team's biggest challenge at the forthcoming World Cup in New Zealand will be the cold conditions. The biennial tournament starts on January 15 with India, the reigning champions, starting their campaign against Afghanistan in Lincoln. The final will be played at the same venue on January 30.

"It will be a little more chilly and windy out in New Zealand so the conditions will be different and the biggest challenge," Pandit said in Mumbai on the eve of the squad's departure to South Africa, where India will play a tri-series from December 27-January 5 that includes Sri Lanka. "The boys need to get acclimatised as early as possible. We should be ready from the first game to handle the conditions."

The 15-member squad, led by allrounder Ashok Menaria from Rajasthan, was a picture of confidence as it faced the media contingent at the Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai. Both captain and coach said the players have bonded well over the last year, when they've been together. Most of them were also part of the tour of Australia in April this year, where India won the ODI series 2-1 and drew the Tests 1-1.

The Indians finished a 10-day camp in Mumbai on Friday and Pandit said it was a fruitful exercise, with every player made aware of his role. "Our plan was to go step by step," Pandit said. "To begin with, we placed individual responsibilities in the camp. We want to do well in South Africa and finally come up with our best performance in New Zealand."

The seriousness of India's campaign can be gauged from the fact that guest speakers like Sachin Tendulkar, former Australian fielding coach Mike Young and sports psychologist Dr Bhimeshwar Bam spent quality time with the youngsters.

Pandit, a former team-mate of Tendulkar's, said the 45-minute conversation Tendulkar had with the players would stand them in good stead. "Tendulkar spoke on how to approach a game. His technical feedback was really valuable," Pandit said. "For example, he told the fast bowlers that when they run towards the target [batsman] they have to keep their head forward. We would Probably have learnt that after going there," Pandit said with visible excitement.

He said Tendulkar's most valuable advice was on "trusting the teammate". "He told them that "if you are going to stand next to each other you need to have the confidence in the other. Only then can the team perform". The boys seemed to have understood the message as they started looking at the other from there onwards," Pandit said.

As for Young, he managed to instill a more enthusiastic approach to fielding. "He made us enjoy fielding," Saurabh Netravalkar, one of the fast bowlers in the squad, said. "He started with the basics of fielding, about how to start, how to position yourself, and made fielding easy."

Young just focussed on refining certain basics as he felt that Pandit had been carrying out the right drills and there was no need for him to introduce anything new.

Pandit said India haven't missed anything by way of preparation. "We need to now look at how we are going to implement what we have been working on during the actual games."

Meenaria said the defending champions were not in any way burdened by expectation. "There is no pressure, instead we are more confident now - especially after winning in Australia," he said. "I'm confident we are favourites to win the World Cup. But for now, our focus is on the South African tour."

India play their first game against South Africa in Johannesburg on December 28.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo