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Sri Lanka can be U-19 World Cup dark horses, coach warns

Abu Dhabi: The Sri Lankan team can be a dark horse in the U-19 World Cup here, according to their coach Naveed Nawaz.

Sri Lanka have won both their warm-up matches so far against India and Namibia, and Nawaz was particularly pleased with their win against the defending champions. “The victory against India was huge, considering we lost to them in a close encounter in the semis of the Asia Cup. It is a big boost for the confidence of the boys heading into the opener,” he said, adding that the experience of playing in the Asia Cup here was a big plus.

“We played here two months back in the Asia Cup, so we are quite familiarised with the conditions and wickets. Other than that, we as a team have been progressing well. The boys are beaming with confidence and we hope to have a good tournament,” revealed Nawaz.

Both the Sri Lankan senior and junior teams were in the UAE around the same time last year and they were mostly training together back home, something which has done wonders to the confidence of the youngsters. “In Sri Lanka, we always play together and the U-19s get a chance to bowl to the seniors and bat against the senior bowlers. So that helps. As individuals, you get the confidence of playing the bigger players. The national selectors have backed this move a lot and that has done wonders,” Nawaz said.

The Lankan team will be banking on their skipper Kushal Mendis to carry his fine run of form with the bat. Mendis comes into the tournament on the back of a century against Australia in the home series a week ago. The Lankans tactfully rested Mendis in the warm-up against India.

“Our captain Mendis is one of the key batsmen in our side. He didn’t play against India but he was amongst runs against Australia. He made a 100 against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup as well,” said Nawaz, adding that the team also had others in the ranks who could step up.

The coach was of the view that his side was placed in a tough group and there was no room for error. “I think it is one of the strongest groups we are in — England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and hosts UAE. So, it is one of the strongest groups where you got three frontline cricket-playing countries.

“So, we have to go out there and minimise our mistakes and take each game on its own merit and start doing well,” said Nawaz, who also felt that spinners will play a key role while playing against England, New Zealand and Australia.

“The spin department is going to have a lot of responsibility. We have two left-arm seamers, two left-arm spinners and two off-spinners. So, it’s quite a balanced bowling attack.”