Pakistan Under19 coach Ijaz Ahmed is confident that his side can beat defending champions India in the Under19 World Cup clash, if and when it happens. India and Pakistan have faced each other eight times in the past with the score tied at 4-4. Pakistan famously beat India in the final of the 2006 edition, whereas two years ago, the Prithvi Shaw-led unit defeated the arch-rivals in the semifinals in New Zealand.

The two sides have been grouped separately with India in Group A and Pakistan in Group C and the only way they can face each other is if they make it to the final eight, something Ijaz is certain about. The confidence could stem from the fact that Ijaz was head coach of the Pakistan Emerging side which beat India before eventually winning the title in Bangladesh last year.

“India has a very good cricket system and it is organized but I know that we have more passion than them when we play against each other and that is how we also beat them in the semi-finals of the recent Asian Emerging Nations Cup,” Ijaz said. “Even in the past, we beat India because of our greater passion and this time also I know the passion of our players will prevail over them although they have a very strong outfit.”

The two teams have combined to win the ICC Under19 World Cup six times, with India being four-time champions – 2000, 2008, 2012 and 2018, and Pakistan emerging triumphant in back-to-back editions in 2004 and 2006. Pakistan have been grouped alongside Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Scotland, and India will be playing their league games against New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Japan.

“It is the same in the World Cup it does not matter which team is number one or defending champions what will matter is how a team plays on a given day. I personally feel our team is well balanced,” Ijaz, who played 60 Test and 250 ODIs for Pakistan, pointed out.

India must be entering the tournament high on confidence having beaten South Africa in the final of the Under-19 Quadrangular series but Ijaz played down the possibility of them holding any edge ahead of the ICC event.

“Our players have also trained hard in Lahore and we have played around 11 matches. We will also reach South Africa nine days before the World Cup and we have some practice games and I think our preparations are also very good for the tournament,” he said.

Days ahead of the start of the tournament, Pakistan’s plans received a bit of a jolt when young teenage pace sensation Naseem Shah was withdrawn from their Under-19 World Cup squad. Nasim shot to limelight due to his hostile spell of bowling against Australia in a three-day warm-up game in November and even ended up playing two Tests for the national team Down Under. Pakistan could have done with Naseem’s exposure of bowling on hard Australian pitches but despite the setback, Ijaz believes Naseem’s absence won’t impact the team or its preparations.

“Look there was no controversy at all. The way we now see things is that you can’t expect a MBA to go and take BA exams. That is how we look at Naseem Shah, he has made the grade for Pakistan and now he should be performing for the senior team,” said the head coach.

“We have a couple of exciting young talent in the ranks. I expect Rohail and Haider to play for the senior team in two to three years’ time, they are that good.”