2024 Under-19 World Cup: Pakistan Preview
The Under-19 World Cup starts from 19th January in South Africa. Pakistan will play their first game on the 20th against Afghanistan. The competition was originally scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka but was shifted to South Africa after the ICC suspended Sri Lanka Cricket because of extensive government interference in the board’s administration.
Saad Baig, a left-handed wicket-keeper batsman from Karachi who rose to fame with his exploits in U19 city cricket, is leading the Pakistan side in this tournament. Saad topped the City and Divisional U19 tournaments in 2022 and never looked back. He also topped the charts in the National U19 Cup that year.
Later, Saad led Pakistan U19 in home and away series against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He also led the Hyderabad Hunters in the Pakistan Junior League.
Saad looks to be proactive at the crease and tends to bat at a faster pace than most of the other top-order batsmen in the squad. A fluent run-scorer, he knows how to keep the scorecard ticking, which he showed in his innings against India in the Asia Cup and other recent innings. He made three scores of 50+ in four innings recently in the Under-19 Asia Cup.
Azan Awais, another left-hander, is quite similar to Saad Baig in his batting style and is another young opener from the city of Sialkot, where Abdullah Shafique, Muhammad Hurraira, and Mirza Tahir Baig have emerged in recent years. A heavy run-scorer at the domestic level, he is a common feature in the Pakistan U19 top order.
Azan is one of the two players in this squad to have also taken part in another U19 World earlier. He has been quite consistent so far at every level he has played; he had the most runs in the away series against Bangladesh U19, scored a fifty against PNG for the Shaheens, and then again top-scored in the recent Asia Cup. The highlight of his career may well be his century against India in the Asia Cup, which helped Pakistan to a comprehensive victory chasing 260.
Shahzaib, also a left-hander, is a proper old-school batter who loves to bat and bat. Shahzaib is the only Pakistani to have multiple 150+ scores in U19 Tests, having made 174 against Bangladesh and 161 against Sri Lanka; only three other batters worldwide have achieved this feat. The youngster has scored three 50s in his last six one-day innings against Sri Lanka, India, and Afghanistan’s strong sides.
Shamyl Hussain has a unique batting style that differentiates him from the rest of the batsmen in the squad. He already has the record for the highest individual score by a Pakistani batsman in Youth ODIs, having smashed a 109-ball 150 against Sri Lanka Under-19 a few months ago.
Shamyl also showed his ability to score at high strike rates during the Pakistan Junior League as he led his team to the final. He has hit the joint-most sixes for Pakistan in Youth ODIs (15). Another left-handed batter, his unique batting style has drawn comparisons to former Indian all-rounder Yuvraj Singh.
Right-handed batter Haroon hails from the Karachi region and was their 2nd-best batter in the last National U19 Cup. He batted at number 3 in his team. However, in the three one-dayers he played for Pakistan, he batted at number 5 and couldn’t make an impact. A squad stacked with top-order batters means some of them may have to adjust to batting down the order.
Haroon has batted with U19 captain Saad Baig at both regional and district levels and has batted at different positions, including opening and number 5 in the U19 District tournament. Therefore, perhaps he can be used as a floater as well.
Mohammad Riazullah Khan
Riazullah is a right-handed batter from Upper Dir who is just 17 years of age and hasn’t played a lot for the Pakistan U19 side. He recently toured with the Pakistan U19 team to play in the U19 Asia Cup and scored an impressive stroke-filled fifty against Afghanistan. He was his team’s best batter in the U19 District tournament, scoring a century and two fifties in the five games he played.
Left-hand batter and orthodox left-arm spinner Arafat Minhas is one of the most highly-rated youngsters in the squad, having performed in almost every age-group tournament he has played. He already has a T20I cap after playing in the Asian Games and was part of the Multan Sultans squad last year.
He can dominate with both bat and ball and has a very impressive record at the U19 level. He has the 2nd-most runs and the 2nd-most wickets for Pakistan Under-19 since 2021. His batting numbers in Youth ODIs for the U19 side are exceptional, with 500+ runs at an average of 57.4 with a strike rate of 108!
After having a lean run during the U19 Asia Cup, hopes will be high from this youngster in the U19 World Cup.
Ahmad Hassan, a 17-year-old pace-bowling all-rounder from Sangla Hill, was a late addition to the U19 setup. He was previously in the reserves for the Under-19 Asia Cup before being added to the main squad for the Under-19 World Cup, likely because the team required a pace-bowling all-round option in South Africa.
He played for Sialkot Under-19 in the National U19 Cup along with other players in the World Cup squad, including Azan Awais and Ali Raza. Before that, he performed for Sheikhupura U19 in city cicket and was their 2nd-best batter while taking six wickets. In the World Cup warm-ups, Ahmad was the top scorer against South Africa with 38 (53) after coming in at 34/3 then again top scored with 44 (56) against England, this time as an opener, before retiring out.
Khubaib is a right-arm fast-bowling all-rounder and has not played many games at the domestic level. However, the change in venue from Sri Lanka to South Africa could’ve been a factor in his selection because it is generally perceived that South African conditions are useful for the pacers.
He made an impression against Afghanistan on his Pakistan U19 debut, bowling well to pick up two early wickets in the U19 Asia Cup.
Ubaid Shah has not played much for the U19 team, but in that short time, he has proven himself to be a great threat with his impressive right-arm fast bowling. Like his elder brother, Naseem Shah, Ubaid is quite talented and accurately bowls back of length to trouble the batters. He can also bowl yorkers to devastating effect.
Ubaid was the highest wicket-taker for Pakistan U19 in the series against Sri Lanka, taking 9 wickets in 5 games. He followed this up with further good performances in the U19 Asia Cup, finishing as Pakistan’s second-highest wicket-taker with 10 wickets @ an average of 15. The big-hitting ability also seems to run in the genes, as he smashed a 17-ball 37* with 5 sixes in a recent World Cup warm-up against South Africa.
Mohammad Zeeshan made his name because of his tall physique and the extra bounce he generates to trouble the batters. A towering 6’8” right-arm fast-bowler, he was among the top 5 pacers in the latest National U19 Cup and has been the most successful Pakistani bowler in the one-day series against Bangladesh and the Asia Cup. He was also the best bowler in the Pakistan Junior League.
He caught the eye with his bowling displays recently in the U19 Asia Cup, where he picked up 6/19 against Nepal and followed it up with an impressive display of 4/46 against India. He has also demonstrated the ability to hit a long ball, being promoted up the order against Nepal, where he struck 20*, including two sixes.
Amir Hassan is from the left-arm pacer conveyor belt of Pakistan cricket, and along with that, he can bat a bit as well. He possesses decent new-ball skills and can prove to be a wicket-taking threat early on.
In his recent appearances for Pakistan U19, he has picked up wickets in most games, although he hasn’t bagged a large haul in any single match. In the away tour of Bangladesh, Amir batted with a strike rate of 142 and a strike rate of 155 in the recently concluded National U19 Cup.
Ali Raza is the youngest player in this squad – just 15 years old. His claim to fame was his PJL performances. Since then, he has represented Pakistan U19 in three one-dayers, taking five wickets. In the PJL, he made an impression as a tall and lanky right-arm pacer who can bowl back of a length and target the top of the off stump.
Ali Asfand, a left-arm orthodox spinner, is Saad Baig’s deputy for the U19 World Cup and has been a part of Pakistan’s Under-16 team as well and played against Australia and Bangladesh. Unlike many of the other players in the squad, he has also played at the domestic level and has the experience of 2 First Class matches and 11 List A games.
Hailing from Faisalabad, Ali has a peculiar bowling action like another Test spinner, Zulfiqar Babar. Ali Asfand has been a regular with this Pakistan squad and was the highest wicket-taker of the away series against Bangladesh.
Naveed Ahmad Khan
Naveed is an off-break bowler with limited experience for the Pakistan U19 side. However, in his first series with the U19 team, he was Pakistan’s best spinner, picking up 7 wickets against Sri Lanka. He also had a decent National U19 Cup for Karachi Whites U19. Only one bowler with a minimum of 6 wickets had a better bowling average than him. Naveed took 7 wickets at an average of 12 in this tournament.
As is usually the case with Pakistan teams in tournaments, this team’s strength is likely to be its bowling. The previous Under-19 World Cup was held in the West Indies, where Pakistan’s pacers (including Awais Ali & Zeeshan Zameer) and spinners (including Qasim Akram & Mehran Mumtaz) alike found success. This time around in South Africa, Pakistan’s pace-bowling is likely to play a more prominent role, with the displays in the U19 Asia Cup showing lots of promise.
Pakistan’s batting also looks fairly strong, with the settled top four batters having plenty of impressive performances over the past few series. However, the middle order is less experienced and comparatively not as settled, barring Arafat Minhas, who has had an extended run in the team.
Possible Playing XI
- Shamyl Hussain
- Shahzaib Khan
- Azan Awais
- Saad Baig © (WK)
- Ahmad Hassan
- Riazullah Khan
- Arafat Minhas
- Amir Hassan
- Mohammad Zeeshan
- Ubaid Shah
- Ali Asfand