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The ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup 2018 officially got underway in style at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch on Sunday, with an impressive ceremony showcasing New Zealand’s culture. The ceremony was attended by representatives of all the 16 participating sides, Christchurch Councillor Aaron Keown, as well as New Zealand Cricket President Debbie Hockley, who, on behalf of the ICC and NZC (New Zealand Cricket), welcomed the teams to the tournament.

The squads, officials and other spectators present at the event enjoyed the short opening programme, the highlight of which were traditional Maori dances. The cultural event was followed by photoshoots of the participating teams in a festive atmosphere. The tournament gets underway on January 13, with matches spread across the seven venues in New Zealand- Christchurch, Queenstown, Tauranga and Whangarei.

The tournament winners will be crowned in Tauranga on February 3. The teams will get a chance to get into their groove with practice matches in Christchurch, starting from January 8-11. NZC President Debbie Hockley said: “This event plays an important role in developing its participants into international professionals, teaching them invaluable lessons in camaraderie, discipline, leadership, playing under pressure and, of course, appreciating the spirit of the game”.

The tournament director Brendan Bourke said: “Never before has an opening event taken place at an ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup featuring all 16 teams, so we jumped at the opportunity to create a very special occasion for them.”

The teams attending the opening ceremony were enthusiastic about the event with the captains looking to make the maximum of the chances that come their way. The Australian captain Jason Sangha said: “It’s good to be in the nets, but we’re ready now to play sometime in the middle. I reckon that’s the best part of playing this World Cup. There’s that bit of uncertainty where we don’t really know what to expect. We know New Zealand’s quite cold, the wickets might seam a bit more, but I think we have the batting line-up and the bowling attack to go all the way.”

Bangladeshi captain Mohammad Saif Hassan added: “There is an amazing atmosphere here, everybody is quite excited. Last year, we were third, so we will go for number one. The conditions are tough for us, but we are adjusting quite nicely after playing some matches here. We will go match by match”.

The England captain Harry Brook also said: “The team travelled well and we have had a good couple of days training. We’re ready for the first warm-up game, and the last few days of training, we are confident for the group stage. We’re here to win it (the tournament)”.

The runners-up of the 2016 edition and Indian captain Prithvi Shaw expressed his views: “We’ve been here a week now, played a couple of games. Everything has gone well, the preparation of the team has been good. Our goal is obviously to win the World Cup, but at the same time, we are looking forward to our first game (against Australia on January 13). Let’s see how the process goes”.

New Zealand captain Kaylum Boshier said: “We are looking forward to playing decent cricket. The best thing about this tournament is you can play the best in the world. It’s a good chance to take a big step forward on the big stage. We’re starting to get the feel (of a big tournament) since the tournament is just a week away. There is pressure, but the team that performs under pressure will come out on top”.

The Pakistani captain Hassan Khan also added: “Our aim is to win the tournament. We have prepared well and hopefully, we will perform well and make it three times for Pakistan and catch up with India and Australia (who have won three times each). Most of us are touring New Zealand for the first time, but we are adjusting well and have a good chance to express ourselves.”

South African captain Raynard van Tonder said: “We arrived yesterday after a long trip, but are really excited to be here. It’s really nice and a friendly country, and we’re really excited for the World Cup to start. Obviously, our main goal is to win the World Cup, but we’re just going to take it one game at a time.”

Sri Lanka captain Kamindu Mendis also said: “We’ve never won the U-19 World Cup and we think this (winning the tournament) will be a big boost for cricket back home. Our team is really good, all are in good form and we really want to win it this time. We have some new plans and we did the right things in preparations over the past couple of months and we have to now just do that in this World Cup.”

The champions of the 2016 edition and West Indies captain Emmanuel Stewart said: “This is always a good tournament to take part. This is my second time. Last time, it was a special occasion for us as we won, so we have to give a good account of ourselves and Caribbean cricket. This tournament sets the foundation for us and is very important for us all”.

The Zimbabwean captain Liam Roche too added: “I feel excited; I also feel privileged to be here representing my country. I’m looking forward to this big competition, though we have had lots of competition over the past two years. Here I’m looking for high scoring games, lots of runs, lots of wickets for the boys”.

In the 2018 edition, sixteen teams have been divided into four groups, each consisting of four teams each. Group A comprises the West Indies, New Zealand, South Africa and Kenya. Group B is formed by Australia, India, Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe. Group C consists of Bangladesh, Canada, England and Namibia, and Group D comprise Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Ireland.

According to the event format, the top two sides from each group will advance to the Super League, while the remaining eight teams will figure in the Plate Championship. The preliminary round matches will be followed by quarter-finals, semi-finals, and finals, along with the playoffs.

Australia and India have both won the Under-19 tournament three times. Pakistan are the only ones to have won back-to-back titles (in 2004 and 2006), while England, South Africa, and the West Indies have won once each.