The ACC U-19 Elite Cup cricket championship begins Tuesday in Bangkok with title-hopeful Nepal taking on UAE at AIT Ground in the one of the opening day matches.

“We are in a difficult group so even a single mistake can cost us dear,” coach Jagat Tamata said ahead of the match. “All matches are equally important for us.”

Nepal, the five-time winners and one-time finalist, will be hoping to begin the tournament at high notes. Nepal’s next matches are against dark-horse Oman and Afghanistan, who defeated Nepal in semifinal in last edition. Newly promoted Thailand is the other team in the ‘group of death’.

Historically, Nepal has upper hand. In previous three matches against UAE, Nepal had managed to win all of them easily. The last time, in 2007, by six wickets chasing 125. Earlier, Nepal had beaten UAE by 8 wickets in 2003 in Pakistan and by 106 runs in 2001 in Kathmandu.

As the preparation to the event, Nepal toured Bangladesh and UAE hosted Afghanistan ‘A’. UAE lost two one-day matches by 52 runs and 19 runs respectively. Nepal’s display against Bangladesh U-19 was dismal with all losses in two one-day and two T20 matches.

In 2009, Nepal failed to make to the final in 10 years thus losing the chance to qualify for the Youth World Cup for sixth time. The pressure in on the team now to reclaim the lost glory.

Prithu Baskota’s team not only faces tough challenge from opponents on ground, but there is also pressure off the ground. The inspiration that the team may feel lacking is the presence of coach Roy Dias.

This is the first tournament after Roy Dias’ departure and former national player Jagat Tamata is handling the team. Nepal toured Bangladesh for preparation where the failure in its batting was all evident – Bangladesh U-19 outplayed Nepal in two one-day and two T20 matches.

Prithu wants to ensure a place in semifinal winning first three matches. “Our first priority is entering semifinal as group winners,” he said. “So first match is important.”

Prithu was captain of the U-17 team that defeated UAE in the semifinals of the ACC U-17 Elite in Kathmandu two years ago. “But there has been changes in the team and they would play good as they practised against Afghanistan,” he said.

Nepali team is now complete after arrival of Rajesh Pulami and Rahul Pratap Singh who were absent in Bangladesh due to delay in passport issuance. Rajesh is likely to debut against UAE as Nepal is looking to strengthen batting taking a cue from performance in practice matches.

Group B of the event consists of defending champions Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Kuwait and Qatar. The two finalists will qualify to play in the Youth World Cup qualifiers to be held next year.

(Binod Pandey, a sports correspondent with Nagarik national daily, is the contributing editor of Cricket Nepal. He is traveling with the U-19 team.)