The hopes of their nations don’t depend on them, but their cricketing career hopes – an unfair tag – lay in this tournament.
The ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup is the perfect feeder tournament for young cricketers to professionalise and advance into the senior squad, where – again, an unfair tag – the hopes of their countries will lie on their shoulders.
Over 23 days from this past Friday, 240 teenagers split into 16 teams will take part in 48 matches to ultimately decide who is good enough to graduate into their respective first teams.
Some of the graduates from the 1998 tournament, the last and only time it was held in South Africa, include Grant Elliott – the guy who made AB de Villiers, and some of South Africa, cry at the 2015 World Cup; Chris Gayle – who, to be fair, has made a lot of bowlers cry; and Imran Tahir – who, not to be unfair, has made a lot of batsmen cry.
Elliot and Tahir have made names for themselves in New Zealand and South Africa, respectively. But they played for South Africa and Pakistan, respectively, at the Under-19 World Cup.
Gayle has made a name for himself all over the universe, playing for West Indies.
But changing allegiance like Tahir or Elliott did is not unique in cricket or to cricket, and has happened many times.
Eoin Morgan, England’s World Cup-winning captain is still the Under-19 tournament’s most prolific run scorer, but achieved his 606 runs for the green of Ireland.
However, even if the boys possess those thoughts, their focus will surely be on one thing – to perform at their best for the next 21 days.
On Friday, that’s exactly what hosts South Africa planned to do against Afghanistan.
Instead, it was Shafiqullah Ghafari who scooped all the praise for his demolition of the young Proteas.
Ghafari finished with figures of 6/15 in 9.1 overs in Kimberley, Northern Cape, to leave South Africa staring down a big, dark hole.
The leg spinner took his first World Cup wicket in the 12th over, and the road to becoming this year’s first hero was cemented in the 29th over when he bowled Gerald Coetzee to close the innings with only 129 runs to chase, leaving him with the joint seventh-best bowling figures in the history of the tournament, and the best for Afghanistan at this level.
For Mzansi’s future cricketers, it was not a bright start as they lost their first batsman, Jonathan Bird, arguably one of their best, to the third ball of the tournament for a duck, with his opening partner falling in the third over for only two runs.
Captain Bryce Parsons and Luke Beaufort tried to revive the innings with a 55-run partnership, but as soon as the power play was done, the spinners came on and the batting crumbled. From 62/2 to 129 all out, Ghafari and left-arm spinner Noor Ahmad took the remaining eight wickets.
Afghanistan won by seven wickets, with Imran Mir and Ibrahim Zadran – who is already a member of the senior side in all three formats – scoring half-centuries.
To be fair, South Africa’s bowling wasn’t all that terrible; it just lacked impetus and, of course, runs to defend.
They now have to win against Canada in Potchefstroom on Tuesday and against the United Arab Emirates in Bloemfontein on Saturday just to get out of the group stages in their home World Cup, and make sure they fare well.
Wednesday January 22 vs Canada (Potchefstoom, 10am)
Saturday January 25 vs United Arab Emirates (Bloemfontein, 10am)