The Under-19 World Cup kicks off in Queensland, Australia on August 11, and West Indies, the third seeds, are expected to be the only serious threat to India, twice champions in the past, in the group stages and push India against topping the group in qualifying for the Super League. Apart from India and West Indies, Group C has Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea (PNG) in contention.
"It is heartening to have more than a billion people behind us. We will do our best to make them happy," said Unmukt Chand, captain of the Indian team.
West Indies is led by Kraigg Brathwaite, a 'veteran' of nine Test matches. Apart from Brathwaite, Ronsford Beaton, Kavem Hodge and Amir Khan are the only ones in the team to have played first-class cricket. "We expect to play good cricket and if we do, we expect to advance to the second round and beyond. But we will not underestimate the opponents. Cricket is a great game and you have to be at your best at all times, no matter who you play against," said Brathwaite.
Braithwaite praised the team's preparations, saying that West Indies stood a good chance of breaking their jinx at the tournament. "I believe we can win this tournament. We just need to believe in ourselves, go out there, play as a team to our full potential," said Brathwaite. "We have good players in all departments. We had tours to Dubai, Florida and India last year and also had two one-week camps in Barbados earlier in the year. We also had a two-week camp in Australia before the World Cup. The squad is really confident, highly motivated and really looking forward to playing some good cricket."
West Indies have only once appeared in a Super League final (2004) where it lost to Pakistan. However, it has lost four times in the semi-finals, twice to Pakistan (1988 and 2010), once to Australia (2002) and once to England (2004). In 2006, West Indies lost to India in the quarterfinal.
India was seeded sixth for this year's edition of the tournament, but have a great record to boast of. Apart from being two-time champions (2000 and 2008), the team has had players like Virender Sehwag, Mohammad Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Virat Kohli, Irfan Pathan, Suresh Raina and others representing it in the past.
Apart from Chand, the top-order batsman who averages 43.41 in first-class matches, other first-class cricketers in the line-up are Baba Aparajith, the allrounder, Harmeet Singh and Vikas Mishra, both left-arm spinners, Akhil Herwadka, the opening batsman, and Sandeep Sharma, the right-arm fast bowler.
"We have a strong batting and bowling line-up. The batsmen and bowlers have delivered in crunch situations. Our fielding is an asset as well. We have it in us to go the distance," said Chand. "We are bound to face challenges, with so many quality teams in the fray. However, what might work in our favour is that we have played in Australia, as recently as April 2012. Every match will be a test. We will definitely not make the mistake of taking things lightly. It is important to be focussed, and not get complacent."
Group C schedule
August 11: Zimbabwe v PNG
August 12: India v West Indies
August 13: West Indies v PNG
August 14: India v Zimbabwe
August 16: India v PNG and West Indies v Zimbabwe