Ball misses out as England Under-19 with their opener

Saturday 16th January 2010

By Charles Randall
THE widely held theory that the numbing chill in South Island should handicap the usually dominant Asian sides looks valid enough, though England showed on Saturday that they could succeed in the Under-19 World Cup without help from the weather.

As an icy wind continued to blow in from the Antarctic under grey skies England defeated Hong Kong by nine wickets with almost 20 overs to spare at Christchurch in their opening Group A match. The result fitted with expectation without becoming routine.

The England squad sang their celebrations afterwards to the tune of ’glory, glory, hallelujah’. And when the sunshine makes an appearance in normally one of the hottest summer months, the whole of Christchurch will probably feel like joining in.

England’s sing-song reflected the satisfaction of a sound performance. There was no sense of gloating, not least because they had to wait at least an hour after the finish for fast-bowler Nathan Buck to return from the random ICC drug test, having failed to provide an adequate urine sample.

Hong Kong, in their first world finals tournament at any level, performed creditably as no-hopers in the unexplained absence of their coach, the former England batsman Aftab Habib. Having steered Hong Kong to the most successful era in their history, he resigned unexpectedly after the qualifying tournament in Toronto last September and returned newly married to England with a year of his contract remaining. "He was the best coach we have ever had," said one official, "and all the players liked him." Habib at least avoided getting chilled to the bone.

Buck, outstanding with the new ball, had mixed feelings about the weather. "I would have liked to see a bit more sun here," he said. "However the conditions did help us bowlers. Hong Kong weren’t really playing any shots early doors and the pressure builds. Then the big shot comes at the wrong time."

Buck’s pacey opening seven-over spell cost only 11 runs for two wickets, both clean bowled — one a beauty that seamed away. For England to have any chance of success in this tournament, they need a threatening new-ball attack, which Buck and David Payne provided. Just as importantly the top order batting has to dominate — which also happened.
Chris Dent launched the innings with meaty leg-side boundaries to make 33 off 37 balls, and Joe Root and James Vince finished the job aggressively in an unbroken stand of 129, though the fact that Hong Kong’s back-up bowling was quite weak should temper any praise.

Hong Kong recovered from a wobbly start through Nizakat Khan and Irfan Ahmed, an exceptional fast-bowling all-rounder being considered by Bombay for the next Indian Premier League draft. Nizakat tried to feast on Ateeq Javed’s tempting off-spin with mixed and an ultimately fatal result. An attempted midwicket six fell short and was dropped by the sprawling Dent, another soaring effort went through Root’s hands as he leaped in front of the long-on boundary and finally a slog turned into a skier that Vince held easily. Job done for Javid with one wicket for 25 in four overs. Hong Kong faltered, and two late run-outs by Dent hastened the decline to 185, a score well below ideal.

It was hard to agree with the official man of the match award for Vince, because it was Buck’s effectiveness that squeezed Hong Kong’s hopes early on, with the left-arm Payne effective as his partner. Vince actually underlined a potential weakness in this England side as a back-up bowler offering too many loose deliveries. Ben Stokes, though, shrugged off blisters from new boots to impress.

Two good seam-bowlers had to sit out this game – Kent“s Adam Ball (pictured) and Matthew Dunn — and England might be tempted to give at least one an opportunity for the Afghanistan match at New Brighton on Monday. The crunch game looms against India on Thursday.

ENGLAND UNDER-19 (v Hong Kong)
Joe Root (Yorks), Chris Dent (Gloucs), James Vince (Hants), Jos Buttler (Somerset), Ateeq Javid (Warwicks), Ben Stokes (Durham), Michael Bates (Hants, wkt), Azeem Rafiq (Yorks, capt), Danny Briggs (Hants), David Payne (Gloucs), Nathan Buck (Leics).

Omitted: Adam Ball (Kent), Matthew Dunn (Surrey), Jack Manuel (Worcs), Paul Best (Warwicks).

Coach: Mark Robinson (Sussex).

Picture: Getty Images