England prepare to defend world title

The NatWest England Under 19 Cricket Team travel to Sri Lanka today (Friday 7 January) as reigning Under 19 World Champions, aiming for a repeat triumph in the forthcoming Under 19 Cricket World Cup.

England's status as champions dates back to the previous World Cup in South Africa in 1998, when they beat co-finalists New Zealand at the Wanderers Cricket Ground in Johannesburg by seven wickets. Whilst the current England team may feature a new squad of players, they still hold similar ambitions.

Pre-tournament preparations have centred on a mini-tour to Malaysia, where the team played two practise games. After travelling to Colombo today, they will play two more warm-up fixtures before the tournament's opening ceremony on Monday 10 January. England's first match is on Tuesday 11 January against Americas.

James Whitaker, the NatWest England Under 19 Tour Manager, said, "Preparations have gone very well and everyone is in good shape. We have won our two warm-up games here convincingly and have put in some hard middle practice. It is very hot and humid in Malaysia and we expect similar conditions in Sri Lanka, so it's been a useful acclimatisation process.

"The team spirit is good and the atmosphere is one of quiet determination. It is very hard to assess the strengths of the opposition because we have not seen many of them play, but we will now just focus on going out and winning the cup again."

The tournament's 16 teams, which include all the major cricket nations, are initially divided in to four groups of four teams each. England plays in Group A alongside Zimbabwe, West Indies and Americas. The top two from each group will progress to a Super League Stage, from which the semi-final teams will be decided. The final takes place in Colombo on Friday 28 January.

The NatWest England Under 19 squad: Alex Loudon* (Kent), Ian Bell (Warwickshire), Graeme Bridge (Durham), Justin Bishop (Essex), Michael Carberry (Surrey), David Harrison (Glamorgan), John Maunders (Middlesex), Tim Murtagh (Surrey), Ian Pattison (Durham), Tim Phillips (Essex), Gary Pratt (Durham), John Salder (Yorkshire), Mark Wallace (Glamorgan), Nick Warren (Warwickshire). Team Manager: James Whitaker. Team Coach: Tim Boon.