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England prepare for West Indies hurdle at the U19 World Cup

Friday 22nd January 2010

By Charles Randall at Christchurch

THE annual World Buskers Festival has started in Christchurch where scores of musicians, clowns, jugglers, acrobats and fire-eaters seek coins in the hat at various venues while England’s cricketers prepare for the knockout phase of the Under-19 World Cup.

But forget the town square entertainers… there are some very capable players on show elsewhere. The 87-ball hundred against India by Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes was full of power and flair, and more of the same must be worth a fiver of anyone’s money — or New Zealand tenner — when England take on the West Indies in Saturday’s quarter-final at Rangiora 17 miles north of the city.

Stokes and Warwickshire’s livewire Ateeq Javid turned England’s fortunes in Thursday’s group match in heart-warming fashion, and it was especially pleasing for coach Mark Robinson. "It was a great innings by both of them," the Sussex man enthused. "I said to Ben last night that I knew he could hit but didn’t know he could play as responsibly as he did in that innings."

Javid’s deft placement in his 42 in 69 balls ensured India’s shell-shocked attack faced Stokes more often than they wanted, and these were the two players who could take most credit when the abyss loomed. ’Robbo’s gang’ were able to celebrate Chris Dent’s 19th previous-day birthday at Nando’s in good cheer that evening.

Kent“s Adam Ball (pictured) and his team-mates had to report straight back for practice indoors at Lincoln University this morning after more overnight rain, though Somerset’s Jos Buttler will probably miss selection again, having started a course of antibiotics for a tooth abscess that caused facial swelling serious enough to half-close one eye.

Robinson and his Sussex assistant Carl Hopkinson ruled out any rest for their England squad. "You want the players to feel as though they’ve been in a battle," Robinson said. "You want them to feel aches and pains while having won as well. We don’t rest now; we push on and keep driving ahead because we’ve got momentum.

"From my own experience of the successful period at Sussex we know that this is the time you work even harder. This is what we are trying to instil into the boys and the whole support staff. From the moment we all met at Loughborough we wanted to show that there’s no substitute for hard work or short cuts to success. It’s all about hard work."

England have not yet seen the pleasant Rangiora ground, one of Canterbury’s first class venues, and they know nothing of the West Indies apart from the fact that their openers Kraigg Brathwaite and Trevon Griffith have been heavy run scorers. There is no time for dossiers, and Robinson is quite happy with that.

"This lack of information has been quite good from my point of view," he said. "Before I met my own players I had no preconceived idea because I didn’t know them, and it’s the same with the opposition. Sometimes it’s quite healthy that you don’t know much about them. It allows you to totally focus on your own team and what you do.

"I’m a big believer on focusing on your own skills — you’ve got to have an awareness of what the opposition are trying to do and you are trying to educate your players — but if you sort out your own skills, look after your own disciplines and don’t get too far ahead of yourself as a team, you’ve got a good chance of playing well."

History carries a warning because in Bangladesh 2004 by far the strongest England side to compete over the years, captained by Alastair Cook, hit the buffers in the semi-finals against a nondescript West Indies team boasting seamer only Ravi Rampaul as their most eminent future player. Pakistan easily won that final.

On Saturday, India play Pakistan at Lincoln University and probably start as favourites because this will be their third match at the Bert Sutcliffe Oval, whereas Pakistan have flown in from North Island to a new environment.

The winners of these two quarter-finals play each other in the semi-finals, and the pointers are that England and India will meet again at the same Bert Sutcliffe ground on Monday. While disappointing for reasons of variety, the match would attract an enormous television audience.

On Sunday in the other half of the draw a mature New Zealand side seem to hold more aces than most sides and meet Australia in an enticing Down Under clash at Rangiora. South Africa, surprisingly effective but apparently weaker than the team they beat in their group, Australia, meet Sri Lanka at Lincoln as big favourites.

Quarter-finals:
Saturday
Rangiora: England v West Indies
Lincoln University: India v Pakistan (televised)

Sunday
Rangiora: New Zealand v Australia
Lincoln University: South Africa v Sri Lanka (televised)