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England surge through to quarter-finals at the U19 World Cup

Monday 18th January 2010

By Charles Randall in Christchurch

THE Leicestershire fast bowler Nathan Buck destroyed the Afghanistan upper order at New Brighton and guaranteed England’s place in the quarter-finals of the ICC Under-19 World Cup with a nine-wicket win. The final match against India on Thursday will decide the winners of Group A.

If the inexperienced Afghans were to have any chance of upsetting England at the Queen Elizabeth II ground, their best batsmen had to fire, and the last thing they wanted was to lose three early wickets, including their best batsman Noor Ul Haq Malekzai. Their total of 126 was a shoo-in for the English.

The Gloucestershire left-hander Chris Dent led the reply with 53 not out off 67 balls. In contrast to his bludgeoning style against Hong Kong, he found the boundary only four times, but knocked the ball into gaps very well. With James Vince in equally confident form, England cantered to victory with more than 24 overs to spare — all very pleasing for the coach Mark Robinson. So far, so good for England, who have not reached the final since Owais Shah captained them to glory in 1998.

There was a change of wicketkeeper, with Jos Buttler, the Somerset batsman, deputising for the flu-stricken Michael Bates. A neat showing, a sharp stumping and a catch standing up suggested England had more than enough back-up with the gloves. And the gifted Buttler has yet to bat in a competitive match here.

Ateeq Javid, the Warwickshire all-rounder, did not bat or bowl, and his county colleague Paul Best spent his second match as a reserve, practising like a demon during the lunch break without getting the chance to prove himself in the middle.

Assessing players is difficult in one-sided matches, but it seemed clear that Buck and his new-ball partner David Payne, the Gloucestershire left-armer, had formed a combination probably a cut above most sides, certainly India. Payne was always a danger, as his three wickets in four balls against Hong Kong had suggested, though he finished wicketless this time.

Buck’s first success was perhaps fortuitous, as Javed Ahmadi, a refugee camp player in Pakistan, miscued a catch to square-leg where Adam Ball (pictured)held the catch at the second attempt. Then Mohammad Shirzai was brilliantly held by James Vince, diving at first slip, and the key wicket of Malekzai soon followed, an edged drive smacking into Danny Briggs’s hands at second slip.

Buck was rested after six overs with figures of three for 14, and his diving catch at mid-on, the fourth wicket to fall, more or less ensured there was no way back for Afghanistan. The main threat came from Hashmat Shaidi, the youngest player in the tournament. The 15 year-old left-hander from Kabul lofted fours into the leg-side open spaces without fear to finish top-scorer with 41, though his fluency disappeared against spin.

Against India the nervous Afghans made life tough for themselves on live television by forgetting the singles that could keep the scoreboard ticking over. This time their running was undermined by poor placement, and the left-arm spin of Briggs tied them down, Shaidi included until he perished lbw half forward to off-spinner Azeem Rafiq.

One of the attractions of watching cricket at this level is spotting raw talent. Shaidi and the Hong Kong left-hander Mark Chapman, both 15, looked exceptional cricketers. Perhaps Ball, 16, the Beths Grammar School left-arm seam all-rounder, could join a little group who could dominate the next junior world cup in 2012.

Ball hit a century for Bexley in the Kent Premier League at the age of 15 last summer, and showed enough brio bowling in the nets for the management to draft him in for his England debut as an extra seamer after some lamentable bowling by Vince against Hong Kong.

Ball enjoyed a duel with Shaidi, bowling a maiden to him and conceding most of his runs to him — five overs for 22 runs. Shaidi was perhaps fortunate when a miscue lobbed into the leg side long enough for Ball to sprint in and slide his hand under the ball. It would have been a marvellous catch if Shaidi had not forced the umpires to decide and taken the benefit of the doubt. "I’m 100 per cent certain I caught it," he said, "but they are hard decisions for the umpires. So you have to respect their decision and get on with the game."

Then Ball, a late call-up to replace the unfit Somerset man Calum Haggett, was thrown the ball as first change. "Before my first ball I felt really nervous," he said, "as nervous as I have ever been, but I came through that and ended up bowling not too badly. The left-hander looked to get after me and I thought I contained him pretty well."

The Durham medium pacer Ben Stokes was lofted for two fours by Shaidi in his first three balls and still conceded only 12 runs in his six overs. And the Afghan middle order had no idea how to score consistently off Briggs.

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

Omitted: Michael Bates (Hants, wkt), Matthew Dunn (Surrey), Jack Manuel (Worcs), Paul Best (Warwicks).

Coach: Mark Robinson (Sussex).

Picture:Getty Images