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Format, favourites, rising stars: all you need to know about the Under-19 World Cup

Yashasvi Jaiswal swats one into the leg side Getty Images

Need a quick briefing on the Under-19 World Cup that gets underway on Friday? Here you go:

What is it?

The Under-19 Cricket World Cup is the meeting place of the world's best teenaged cricketers, where teams from 16 countries - across five continents - face off to be crowned the best youth team in the world. This year's is the 13th edition of the tournament - it has been held every two years since the 1998 edition.

When is it?

The tournament starts on January 17, 2020, with hosts South Africa taking on Afghanistan in Kimberley. Most of the matches will start at 10am local time (8am GMT), and, barring the opening day of the tournament, there will be multiple games played on each day of the group stage.

Where is it happening?

All 48 games will be played in South Africa, with matches being played across eight venues in four cities: Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Potchefstroom and Benoni. It's the second time South Africa are playing hosts to this tournament; the last time they hosted it was 22 years ago.

Which are the teams participating?

Defending champions India, and their neighbours Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, make up the five subcontinental sides, all with a large fan base.

Three-time winners Australia, along with England, New Zealand and hosts South Africa will have a keen following too, while West Indies and Zimbabwe have the potential to upset some of the more fancied teams. Also qualifying are United Arab Emirates, Scotland and Canada.

And finally, there are the two debutants: Japan and Nigeria. Qualifying from the Asia-Pacific and Africa regions respectively, it will be the first time the world will get a glimpse of these two countries playing a World Cup (at any level).

Who are the favourites?

Four-time champions India will start as favourites but look out for Bangladesh, who had the highest win-percentage last year among all competing teams. Afghanistan have the potential to go far as well, while experienced coaching set-ups in Australia and England make those two much-fancied sides as well.

Who are some players to watch out for?

Rohail Nazir, the Pakistan batsman who is also their captain, has scored plenty of runs in domestic first-class and List-A cricket. He will be the lynchpin of the Pakistan side, as will be Ben Charlesworth, the England allrounder, who recently helped Gloucestershire win promotion into the first division.

Pace sensation Gerald Coetzee from South Africa is another one to watch out for. He comes into the World Cup having spent the summer with Jozi Stars in the Mzansi Super League, where his first two wickets were South Africa internationals Janneman Malan and Quinton de Kock.

Fans of the IPL can look forward to the Indian quartet of Yashasvi Jaiswal, Ravi Bishnoi, Akash Singh and Kartik Tyagi. Makhaya Ntini, the former South Africa quick, believes these four have "already been groomed to represent India when they grow older".

How long is the tournament? What is the format?

The tournament starts off in Kimberley on January 17, and is scheduled to end in Potchefstroom on February 9. The World Cup will follow a group format, with the 16 teams split into four groups. Each team will play the other teams in their group once, after which the top two sides from each group will proceed to the quarter-finals. From thereon, of course, the winners of the knockout games stay on while the losers get eliminated from the race to be the world's best U-19 team.

But unlike the senior World Cups, there's a slight twist. Since this is a developmental tournament, the ICC has given all the teams the chance to play as many games as possible. That means the bottom two teams from each group don't fly home after elimination. Instead, they are drafted into the "Plate League" - a simultaneous knockout tournament that will run parallel to the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final, to rank teams from 9th to 16th.

What if two teams are tied on points at the end of the group stage?

The first thing considered is which team has won more games. For example, if Australia have four points from one win and two ties and England have four points from two wins, it'll be England who progress to the quarter-finals. If both points and wins are equal, the team with the higher net run rate qualifies. In the unlikely event that even net run rates are equal, the winner of the head-to-head match between the two teams qualifies.

So can there be ties? Will we see the Super Over here too?

During the group stage, if two teams are tied at the end of the game, the match ends there and they take one point each. In the knockouts, if there's a tie the match goes to a Super Over. In the Super Over: each team picks three batsmen to face one over and whoever gets more runs in that over wins. And yes, after the controversial finish at the 2019 Men's World Cup final between England and New Zealand, a tied Super Over will be followed by another Super Over till we find a winner.

How does the tournament help young cricketers?

The tournament is an acid test for the young men participating to show that they can handle the pressure and attention that comes with being an international cricketer. That interplay between nerves and skill makes for fascinating viewing.

The Under-19 World Cup has thrown up so many stars of the game. Current international captains Virat Kohli, Eoin Morgan and Kane Williamson have all come through the ranks of this tournament. Others who have shone here include the likes of Brian Lara, Yuvraj Singh, Chris Gayle and Steven Smith.

India's Prithvi Shaw, Afghanistan's Mujeeb-ur-Rahman and Pakistan's Shaheen Shah Afridi were battling it out at this tournament less than 24 months ago and are now regulars in their country's senior-team plans. One wonders who will be the Shaws, Rahmans and Afridis of the 2020 edition.