BACK IN THE DAY... Quinton de Kock here playing for the SA Under-19 team Pic: ICC

PORT ELIZABETH –  South Africa and Zimbabwe players have not only found the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup a great training ground but also an opportunity to make friends, as the event, which replicates a major tournament experience in terms of organisation and playing facilities, brings together players from different parts of the world.

The next edition of the age-group tournament will be held in New Zealand from January 13 to February 3, 2018. It will be the 12th edition of the event, and the third to be held in New Zealand (after the 2002 and 2010 events). 

New Zealand will become the first country to host this World Cup three times.

South Africa’s wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock has fond memories of the 2012 edition in Australia, as does his team-mate Aiden Markram, who led South Africa to their only title in the following edition in the United Arab Emirates in 2014.

For Zimbabwe players Hamilton Masakadza and Stuart Matsikenyeri, the Under-19 CWC was an opportunity to interact with players from different backgrounds and cultures and also to observe their different approaches and styles of the game.

De Kock, now a regular for the Proteas in the Test and one-day format, said: “The Under-19 World Cup was the perfect stepping stone for me to launch my international career. 

“The tournament gave me an opportunity to test myself against the pressures and expectations that I would soon face at international level. 

“My fondest memories from the tournament are the friendships I made over the course of the tournament. I have come a long way with some of the cricketers that I played with and some of them have even become very good friends of mine. 

“A lot of the players who played in Australia in 2012 have gone on to make their international debuts, which says a lot about the skill and talent there.” 

Markram also said it had been a great experience and the tournament had taught him to deal with different types of pressures on and off the field. 

“As captain, I was privileged to lead a group of exceptionally talented cricketers towards a common goal, which helped me grow and develop as a leader and as a cricketer. 

“I was able to test my skills against some of the best Under-19 players in the world and that gave me an indication of the areas I needed to improve in my game. 

“We were fortunate enough to have some special memories from our World Cup year. We became the first South African team to win a World Cup and that memory is something that I will cherish for many years. 

“Apart from winning the tournament, the opportunity to craft significant friendships with players from other countries was also quite special.” 

Of the Zimbabwe players Masakadza, who played in 2000, 2002, said it proved a valuable stepping stone in his career.

“It’s important (for a cricketer) all through the levels – Under-14, Under-16, but Under-19 is most important because it is the last stage before you graduate into senior cricket. 

“From the angle of learning different conditions, different cultures and different people it was really good for me. It’s never too early to start making friends and learning more about other people, so they make friends they will meet for the rest of their lives playing cricket for Zimbabwe.”

Matsikenyeri, who played in 2002, added: “It was a massive experience. You get to play youth internationals at that age, with really good cricketers. 

“You are exposed to players that play a different brand of cricket, they come through a different type of coaching, you obviously learn quite a lot from the different countries that you play – the Asian nations, the English guys.”

Another to benefit was Prosper Utseya, who played in 2004. “It gives an opportunity to challenge yourself, see where you are as a cricketer. 

“To win against Australia is something that I cannot forget. We also won against New Zealand in 2004. At that age, I did not think I would end up as a national captain but that is where I believe I made my mark – coming through the Under-19 World Cup.” 

African News Agency (ANA)

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