Right from the word go the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup has acted as a petri dish for the progress of cricket’s emerging nations, with an ICC Associates XI entered in the inaugural event in 1988.
From those early steps to memorable performances from Nepal, Namibia and Afghanistan in recent years, the age-group showpiece has acted as a vehicle for Associates to turn dreams into reality.
And for Canada’s Nitish Kumar, it helped him make history.
The all-rounder from Scarborough, Ontario has been representing his country for nearly a decade, starting in earnest at the 2010 U19 Cricket World Cup in New Zealand.
Kumar was thrown in at the deep end of the international game, becoming the second-youngest player in ODI history when lining up against Afghanistan in February 2010.
The U19 World Cup helped him consolidate those experiences and then equipped him for the biggest stage as he became the youngest-ever player to feature at the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, figuring in Canada’s defeat to Zimbabwe in February 2011 aged 16 years and 283 days.
“It was so special to be able to represent your country at such a prestigious event as the U19 World Cup,” said Kumar, now 25.
“It was a competitive environment and we played against some of the best players in our age-group.
“To succeed at the tournament, you need clear plans and to trust your skills. You’ve made it to that stage for a reason and you must believe you’re good enough to win every game.
“It gives you an opportunity to measure your skills against the best in the world at your age. From there you are able to identify areas for improvement.”
The U19 Cricket World Cup has always been a truly global gathering and Netherlands’ Tim De Leede and Canada’s Nicholas Ifill progressed from the 1988 Associates XI to gain Men’s Cricket World Cup experiences.
In recent years Eoin Morgan, Rashid Khan, Steven Taylor, Kyle Coetzer and Mark Chapman have been some of the more recognisable names to star for Associate nations at the U19 World Cup.
Chirag Suri appeared for UAE in the 2014 tournament on home soil, where the host nation gained vital experience in a group with England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.
Hitting a half-century as his side came close to beating the Kiwis, Suri says the event suffused his side with belief they could challenge top-ranking nations.
“This tournament definitely makes you believe in yourself as a cricketer and competing against the best only makes you a more competent and consistent player,” said Suri.
“It’s a great place to be and to see where you stand as a player on the international stage amongst the best of your age.
“It’s an incredible experience which players will share with their kids one day, you have to make every moment enjoyable and not leave anything in the changing room.
“Personally, scoring a 50 against a Test nation like New Zealand and going incredibly close against them, and facing Sri Lanka and England, really made me believe in my ability and the potential of the team.”
Associate nations will once again be out in force at the 2020 renewal of the event, set for South Africa from 17 January – 9 February.
Nigeria and Japan secured qualification for the first time through victory at Africa and EAP Division One events, while Canada, UAE and Scotland will once again take part.
Suri underlines that players who strut their stuff at the U19 World Cup have a unique opportunity – to launch their career in front of a global audience.
“The U19 World Cup can be very pivotal for the next stage of your career if you’re a young player,” said Suri.
“We have seen players doing well in these tournaments and with the confidence they get from it, going on to become the best of the world.
“Virat Kohli is a prime example. I’ve been following him since his U19 World Cup appearance and look at his journey until today.
“There isn’t a better platform to showcase your skills than this one.”