Teenage cricketers from eight Asian nations including powerhouses India and Pakistan have come to the rescue of Sri Lanka’s image as a host country for the first time in nearly ten years as Colombo and its suburbs were declared as venues for the Asian Under-19 championships which got underway on Thursday.The hosting of the Youth Asia Cup breaks the isolation of Sri Lanka as a savoury destination for international tournaments since the country was picked as the venue for the World T20 championships in 2011 in which ten countries vied for honours.But like it is with the country’s political set-up, Sri Lanka Cricket passed the buck on rival administrators and predecessors for their failure to market the country as a venue for international tournaments.“It was a shortcoming on the part of (government) Interim Committees that held office for not having cordial relations with international governing bodies,” said tournament director Bandula Dissanayake.“That we are able to conduct a tournament of this magnitude is a manifestation of the confidence the Asian Cricket Council and the ICC has in us.”
One of the teams in the fray is the curiosity-raising Afghanistan team whose cricketers have not handled a bat or ball at school but learnt the rudiments of the game by playing alongside senior hands at club level. The other teams in the fray are Bangladesh, Nepal, United Arab Emirates and new comers Kuwait. The eight teams had their first taste of Sri Lanka when the Trophy was unveiled in a moment of glitter by their captains with India and Pakistan standing side by side with plenty of geopolitical scores to settle.
India are the defending champions having won the prize in 2018 and contends they have come as the team to beat. “We are looking forward to the matches and we have come well prepared to win the tournament,” said Indian captain Dhruv Jurel. But his Sri Lankan counterpart Nipun Perera who hails from Joseph Vaz College in Vennappuwa was not willing to project his team as second to any other in the fray. “We are in the right frame of mind and this is a chance to prove ourselves,” said Perera. Sri Lanka along with Bangladesh is tipped to qualify to the semi finals from Group B where the team could meet either India or Pakistan in the knockout stage with Afghanistan also aiming for a slot.The final is scheduled for September 14 at the Premadasa Stadium.