Dubai: Defending champions India and two-time former winners Pakistan are favourites to progress to the Super League quarterfinals from Group A of the ICC U-19 World Cup that will be staged across the United Arab Emirates from Feb 14 to March 1.
India, to be led by Maharastra's stylish top-order batsman Vijay Zol, along with Australia, are the most successful side having won the tournament thrice. Mohammad Kaif inspired India to the title in 2000 in Sri Lanka while Virat Kohli led from the front in Malaysia when India regained the title in 2008. The Indian colts won the title again in 2012 in Australia.
Pakistan, however, remain the only country to have won the tournament back-to-back. Khalid Latif led Pakistan to the title in 2004 in Bangladesh while Sarfraz Ahmed's boys retained the crown when the event was staged in 2006 in Sri Lanka.
This month, Pakistan will be led by Lahore's opener Sami Aslam in the green shirts' quest to join India and Australia as the only sides to have won the tournament three times each.
India and Pakistan will go head to head at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium Feb 15 in a match expected to decide which side tops the group.
Also in Group A are Scotland and Papua New Guinea.
"As the defending champions, India will be marked from the start as the team to beat. The tournament format is very exciting and apart from their arch-rivals Pakistan, India also have two competent and motivated sides in Scotland and PNG to contend with. While it is always special and different to play against Pakistan as opposed to playing against anyone else, we won't feel any added pressure in that game," said India captain Zol.
"Having beaten them in the recent U-19 Asia Cup final in UAE recently, we feel we may just have the psychological edge in that match. We are paying a lot of attention to detail and in particular focusing on basic skills such as fielding and running between the wickets."
Talking about the India clash, Sami, who, like Zol, will be appearing in his second World Cup, said: "India is always tough, so we'll have to be at our best and Inshallah will qualify strongly for the Super League. Before the Asia Cup final, we were on a winning streak of about 20 matches and also beat India.
"So we're upbeat about our chances not only in our high-profile first game against India, but beyond that as well. Our strengths, which are our batting and spin bowling, have always served us well in the UAE."