Adam Ball returns from World Cup intensity

Friday 29th January 2010

By Charles Randall in Christchurch

Kent’s Adam Ball (pictured) flew out from New Zealand earlier today with the England party after a draining emotional experience in the Under-19 World Cup. These cricketers will be remembered as the boys who succeeded in beating India rather than invaders who took the tournament by storm as they had hoped.

England had failed to defeat India in four previous matches — five if the world tournament in Adelaide in 1987 were included — and at least this sequence was ended in Christchurch. It was the unexpected 18-run quarter-final defeat by the West Indies that shattered the players.

The eventual finalists proved to be Pakistan and Australia, both teams surviving hair-raising semi-finals before their crunch time at Lincoln University on Saturday in front of live-broadcast ESPN-Star cameras.

Ball, at 16 easily the youngest member of the squad, is due back at Beths Grammar School in Bexley on Monday after four eventful weeks on the other side of the world with plenty of stories to tell. He trained impressively enough to gain selection for the two big matches against India and West Indies as a back-up left-arm seamer for the new-ball pairing of Nathan Buck and David Payne, quite an achievement in itself.

Bearing in mind Ball had to sit three AS Levels in Christchurch during his absence from school, it was a credit to his focus that he played five matches in total. He took only one wicket, but that was the key dismissal of the left-hander Manan Sharma, caught behind when marshalling a recovery for India. After that wicket England marched to their historic victory.

Ball impressed the coach Mark Robinson with his maturity and attitude, though he suffered from nerves during the tense, fateful West Indies game at Rangiora when his four overs cost 28. Nevertheless England’s batsmen failed to chase down the West Indies score of 166 in 36 overs, a target easily attainable. In the dressing room afterwards the players sat in silence unable to believe their tournament had finished. A few, including Payne, could not hold back their tears.

Ball said: "I was very emotional and the team was very low. We were hit hard by it. Sitting there and looking around, I thought that I had given it my all and prepared as well as I could, but it just didn’t work for any of us. We did all the preparation we needed and it just didn’t happen for us on the day. Representing your country and being knocked out like that was the worst moment of my career."

Payne, his senior colleague from Gloucestershire, said: "I’m not afraid to cry. I didn’t hold back. It was more the shock than anything. You play so well against a team like India and then lose to a team like West Indies. You don’t take anything for granted and on the day they were the better team, but… it was still very disappointing."

Mark Robinson gave a coach’s assessment of the defeat, and in truth the players must have realised they did not address a basic fundamental of cricket. "We failed because we weren’t able to keep enough wickets in hand," Robinson said.

"If we had batted the overs out, we would have won. It’s as simple as that. The brutal world is that if you’re a batter you’re paid to score runs and if you’re a bowler you’re paid to take wickets. Failing to do that won’t get you a long-term career. I felt so sorry for them because their effort and attitude deserved more."

An amusing sideshow through the tournament was the fines kitty among the England party, a system so familiar on any club tour. Ball, a late call-up, was fined very early for arriving in need of a haircut, and the search for victims threw Robinson and Buck into the limelight together. A similarity in looks was noticed, and Robinson was fined 10 dollars, about £4.50, for "bringing his son with him on tour".

The large undisclosed kitty was not used to fund an end of tour celebration, as might normally happen. Instead the group decided to donate all of it to the Haiti disaster. That gesture typified the character of these aspiring players, who will remember the trip for the rest of their lives.

Judging from previous ICC junior world cups, seam bowlers from any country very rarely progress to senior international level. In England’s case six tournaments have produced only three seamers who have succeeded… just about. Liam Plunkett, of Durham, and two all-rounders Tim Bresnan (Yorkshire) and Luke Wright (Sussex) all played in the 2004 event. This is a small band Ball would like to join, though he is young enough another to compete again in two years’ time, as Bresnan had did.

Ball said: "Obviously I am going to try my best to get selected for the next world cup and take all my experience from New Zealand and pass it on to the boys when they prepare with me. I’ve loved being involved with the team environment here. They’re a great bunch of lads with a good team spirit."

A bonus for Ball arrived in the final match — the two-wicket defeat by New Zealand for seventh place — when he was given the chance to forget his failure against the West Indies when he fell lbw swishing across the line to the tall Jason Holder, a magnificent Barbados seam bowler. The pressure was almost suffocating.

Against New Zealand, with England desperate to set a proper target, the powerfully built Ball batted with good judgment beyond his years, again at No 9; in scoring 28 not out off 36 balls. That included a straight six on to the grass bank at the Queen Elizabeth II ground, one of his personal highlights.

His experience in the tournament convinced Ball he had what it takes to succeed. "I didn’t do very well against the West Indies," he said, "but generally I thought I coped pretty well with the step up and have taken a lot of confidence out of the tour."

With an ambition to play for Kent as a professional, he added: "I know how I have reacted under pressure with my bowling and know what I need to do to get up to the level of the England boys. I feel I can definitely make that step up."

As England began their journey home today after three weeks of cold weather, the sun came out and the wind died down for the first time. But that’s another story.

Picture:Getty Images