If playing a home World Cup wasn't enough pressure, South Africa's defeat in the tournament opener made it seem like they were heading for an early exit. But since that opening-day defeat, they have won games comfortably, setting up a quarter-final clash against Bangladesh. Leading their charge has been Bryce Parsons, their captain. ESPNcricinfo caught up with him ahead of the quarter-finals
With 245 runs in three innings, at an average of over 81, you're the highest run-scorer after the group stage. Has captaincy helped you up your game?
I've always enjoyed the responsibility of being a captain. It lets me knuckle down a bit more in the middle. Being a normal player, I don't tend to focus as much. Being a captain puts extra pressure on me, and I enjoy the pressure.
But you need to also thank the rest of the batting order. The success of the top order has been really good in the first few games. The few good starts have let me come in against the spinners, and be nice and attacking and take them on. That's my natural game, and going into the knockout games, I hope to continue.
What qualities make you the captain you are, and whom do you look up to?
I'm a natural leader; I can make people bond. That's probably my main attribute. [I] Need to work on a few other things, I'm not a finished product yet, but I like how I'm getting there. I've just got the ability to have people gravitate towards me. People have always had…I don't know how to explain it, but starting from primary school, I've always been given roles as a leader. It's natural.
I learnt a lot from Graeme Smith
, who also went to King Edward VII, my school. Neil McKenzie
- the former Lions captain - too, the way they dealt with interviews and post-match presentation. I got the roots from King Edward VII, and looked up to them whenever I can.
As for transformation and targets, they have to be there. With the wrongdoings of the past, we know where we have to go as the side. But we can't get caught up in it, though...We are just focused and determined as a unit.
So, cricket…where did the love story start?
Must be from my parents. They would chuck cricket balls to me from a young age. [In] Primary school, [I] played a bit of tennis-ball cricket, and then moved to Gauteng and then to King Edward.
Growing up, I always loved how Adam Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs and Brian Lara played - just a natural flair, always enjoyed that.
I've taken to quite attacking batsmen, and these days, I model my game around Quinny [Quinton] de Kock
. He doesn't overthink, he's more instinctive, and that's how I want to play.
(Laughs) Obviously, you must think when you have to think, but I don't want to overthink. Overthinking is a reason for the downfall of many cricketers these days. I just want to play my game since it's gotten me this far. I always had a love for batting. Although I've become a sort of frontline offspinner now, it's always been batting ever since I was young.
Before the World Cup squad was announced, South Africa had lost 7-0 to Pakistan in a series under your captaincy. Were you still expecting to be captain when the squad was announced?
Bit of a weird day [it was], to be honest. I captained the Pakistan series, so there was a chat that we may have a captaincy change. It was a natural choice at that point to go for a different captain. Going down 7-0 wasn't great.
I always knew I'd be in the squad, but wasn't sure if I was captain. Hearing I was captain was a huge privilege. Lots of emotions that day...leading the country at the World Cup. But I always knew I wanted that responsibility.
The South Africa U-19 team is a bit of a mix: some from elite sporting schools, the others not so much. And then, there are transformation targets within the squad.
I don't think school plays that much of a defining role. We've all come through the CSA system, so our mindsets and processes are now well aligned. Schools played a role in us entering the provincial set-up, but now we all have a common goal to play for South Africa, so schools cricket is long forgotten.
As for transformation and targets, they have to be there. With the wrongdoings of the past, we know where we have to go as the side. But we can't get caught up in it, though. We have all bonded as a team, [share a] common goal, and have become really close. We can't let the noise from the outside bother us, though. We are just focused and determined as a unit.
How has the experience of leading the home side at a World Cup been so far? Does it add more pressure, considering South Africa often trip up in crucial stages of multi-team cricket tournaments?
It's just a massive privilege. We saw in Kimberley the number of people who came out for us. For us youngsters, it was always a dream to play at the U-19 World Cup. We know everyone can't make it; a lot of players don't make it, so we need to take responsibility of this privilege and let the South Africa flag flying high.
We've spoken a bit about it, what you're saying - that as a team we have struggled in the past to get past the big moments in big games. But the last two games - against Canada
- were must-win games, so going into the quarter-finals, we know what we have to do. Nothing has changed. The pressure is obviously there, but we have the quality to get through.
So, what happened in the first game, where South Africa were undone by Afghanistan's spin?
Credit has to go to Afghanistan in the tournament opener; they were really good. We may have had some nerves, but we can't give excuses getting bowled out for 150. The good thing is we bounced back well, scoring 300-plus scores in the next two days. It was a tough day; we were all disappointed the way we played, and we figured a plan to how to play spin moving forward.
The way we play spin after that first loss has definitely changed from the first game. That's a positive, because we've been able to adapt really quickly. We know we will face more spin moving forward, but are prepared for it.
You have made the quarter-finals after winning two do-or-die games. Do you think you can be the second South Africa captain - after Aiden Markram - to lift the trophy, come February 9?
We must be seen as real contenders now. We've shown that in the last two games. With a strong bowling attack and now that our batting that's clicking, we've shown we can win this tournament. We're a force to be reckoned with but don't want to get carried away either. We can't wait to show how we deal with pressure come the quarter-final.
What makes an U-19 World Cup special?
It's the exposure. Before the World Cup, not many people have seen us play. People don't really watch U-19 cricket, so TV games help people see the skills and talent that young guys possess around the world. In the India-Australia game
, we saw there was so much talent on the show.
Through the tournament, people have realised that every team has some special players and players that will make a career out of the game. That's really what the U-19 World Cup brings.
It's the knockouts now. Regardless of the result, what sort of legacy do you want to leave as the captain of South Africa?
We just want to show that this badge carries a massive honour. We want to show we give everything out there. No matter the result, we want to fight every day, every game. That's what we want to show to future South Africa U-19 players, the 15- and 17-year olds who will be in this team in the years to come. Personally, I have no idea where my life will take me. We've got massive games coming up for the country, so why look so far ahead?
Lastly, what's your message to the people of South Africa?
Just come down and support us. We'll give everything on the field, I assure you that. Hopefully, results go our way, but [I] promise, we'll make you all very proud of us.
Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo