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Tough schedule awaits Under-19s

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Azeem Rafiq

Off-spinner Azeem Rafiq's form will be crucial to England Under-19s' hopes of lifting the World Cup in New Zealand

England Under-19s look set for a tough 2010 as they face a daunting fixture list that promises to sort the men from the boys.

England’s oldest age-group side, who recently suffered a chastening experience in Bangladesh, losing both the one-off Test and one-day series, will head into the U19 World Cup before taking on Australia at home in a fixture list that could hardly be tougher.

First on the agenda is the World Cup, held in New Zealand and beginning on January 15.

England’s junior teams have nurtured the likes of Ravi Bopara and Alastair Cook in recent years, and the current crop will be hoping to use the huge event in the southern hemisphere to make a name for themselves as well as propelling England to success.

Under the tutelage of coach Mark Robinson, seconded from his day job of heading up one-day heavyweights Sussex, England’s youngsters kick off their campaign against Hong Kong on January 16.

Scheduled to fly out on New Year's Day for a period of acclimatisation and warm-up games against Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, Robinson’s charges face stern tests against current holders India and Afghanistan in Group A.

With the top two teams from each of the four groups progressing to the quarter-finals, England will be hopeful of landing a berth in the latter stages.

Indeed, given a large proportion of the named squad have played first-class cricket, including the likes of Azeem Rafiq and James Vince, there is a belief in the camp that England are well equipped to mix it with the cream of world cricket.

Looking further ahead lies a home series against Australia that promises to be an equally tough ask.

The tour encompasses two Tests, two Twenty20 games and five 50-over matches, played in July and August.

Last summer England beat Bangladesh 1-0 in the home Test series, largely thanks to Josh Cobb’s outstanding 220 in the first match at Scarborough.

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