Dubai: Cricket greats Rahul Dravid, Michael Atherton and Graeme Smith are looking forward to the ICC U-19 World Cup, saying the tournament gives the young players the chance to test themselves against the best in their age group.
The 11th edition of the tournament will be played across four cities in Bangladesh from 27 January to 14 February and features nine Test-playing nations and seven Associate and Affiliate Members – Afghanistan, Canada, Fiji, Namibia, Nepal, Ireland and Scotland.
Dravid, a veteran of 164 Tests and 344 one-day internationals with more than 10,000 runs in both forms, lauded the tournament even though he himself never participated in one. He was 15 when the inaugural event was held in 1988 and had already become a Test cricketer when it was next played in 1998.
"It is a great opportunity for young players to be able to get exposure to the demands of international cricket," said Dravid, who will coach the India side at the tournament.
"The event provides an opportunity to grow and learn, meet cricketers from other countries who you may go on to play against at the senior level for many years.
"Touring at a young age exposes you to the outside world and helps you explore and understand various cultures. That will go a long way in the development of a cricketer."
Former England captain Atherton, now one of the most respected cricket commentators and writers, played in the first edition in Australia in 1988 alongside the likes of team-mate Nasser Hussain, West Indies great Brian Lara, Pakistan’s Inzamam-ul-Haq and Sanath Jayasuriya of Sri Lanka.
"It is a fantastic competition and a wonderful opportunity for the best young players around the world to test themselves against the best of their age-group," said Atherton, who went on to play 115 Tests and 54 one-day internationals for England.
Smith, who played in the 2000 event in Sri Lanka and emerged as the top scorer in the tournament, said it was a "wonderful platform" and a "stepping stone into international level".
"It doesn’t get bigger than that for a youngster," said Smith, who was South Africa's youngest captain at 22 and played 117 Tests, 197 one-day internationals and 33 T20 games for his country.
"When you are under-19, you are inexperienced, so it is a real opportunity for you to gain the experience of playing against different players from around the world. A chance to learn how they play and think about the game. Look at someone like Kagiso Rabada and how his career has jumped from under-19 cricket into a full blown international career."
Both Dravid and Atherton said the fact that Australia and India had won the title three times each and Pakistan twice spoke highly of the growth of age-group cricket in these countries.