England well worth first success over India

Thursday 21st January 2010

By Charles Randall

THE victory chorus boomed out from the England dressing room in Christchurch again today after the best win for a long time in the Under-19 World Cup. The tone quality would have had Simon Cowell and his Britain’s Got Talent pals running for cover, but India had just been defeated for the first time and there had been enough funereal dressing rooms in past years.

The Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes, Christchurch-born, smashed a hero’s hundred and Warwickshire’s Ateeq Javid could seldom have batted better in a 33-run win that settled top place Group A. This was a thoroughly deserved first success over India after four consecutive defeats since the start of this ICC-backed tournament in 1998. England next play West Indies in the quarter-final at Rangiora on Saturday.

The significance of the day at Lincoln University can be gauged by a quick trawl through history. Two years ago England were beaten by India by seven wickets without a fight, four years ago the margin was a truly horrendous 234 runs, 10 years ago it was nine wickets and even when Owais Shah’s side won the inaugural tournament India beat them on the way.

So let the boys have a sing-song. They deserve their moment and the rest of the world can get a word in edge-wise later. In fact England were convincing winners from the moment the Gloucestershire fast bowler David Payne removed India’s captain Ashok Menaria and Harpreet Singh off edges in three balls — ducks for batsmen four and five — and England’s 50-over score of 246-8 suddenly looked very distant.

The morning produced surprises even before the first ball was bowled. Somerset’s Jos Buttler had to withdraw with a tooth abscess, and Jack Manuel replaced him. The selectors then dropped the outstanding left-armer Danny Briggs in favour of Kent’s young seam all-rounder Adam Ball (pictured) after deciding to play only one front-line spinner, the captain Azeem Rafiq. There was marvellous batting, an extraordinary boundary catch and a television referral controversy — the match had almost everything.

A grassy pitch allowed nibbling seam throughout the day and justified the selectors’ risk. There was riveting cricket after India’s toss success as their tall left-armer Saurabh Netravalkar tied England down with the new ball. In his first over he dismissed Gloucestershire left-hander Chris Dent third ball, beaten for length and thin-edging.

Stokes, a muscular left-hander, arrived at the crease in the 19th over with England sinking on 60 for four, but he took encouragement from the nimble-footed Javid, who rotated the strike seemingly at will in contrast to the earlier struggles of his team-mates.

Stokes scored with thundering orthodoxy reminiscent of Ian Botham — sorry to lumber him with that comparison — but the bowlers would agree as six sixes sailed into bushes, poplars and on to the grassy bank surrounding this pleasing ground. Javid said: "He’s a really powerful player — it’s dangerous even bowling to him in the nets."

Early in his innings Stokes pulled a rank long-hop from occasional off-spinner Mayank Agarwal for a huge six, and the realisation dawned that India suffered from a shortage of specialist back-up bowlers. He sailed to his fifty in 61 balls, nursed along by Javid in a fifth-wicket stand of 100 in 22 overs.

Javid said: "I just pushed singles to give Stokesy the strike. He was just awesome. It’s a really great feeling to beat India." Sadly the selfless Warwickshire man did not stay for his partner’s century, bowled behind his legs for 42 sweeping. Later during intermittent light rain Stokes pushed the quick single that brought up a chanceless 87-ball hundred, and next ball he holed out at midwicket, job just about done, leaving wicketkeeper Michael Bates and Ball to lift the total to a formidable size.

The first delivery Ball, 16, faced in his first England Under-19 innings was pulled sweetly for four and the next was edged for four before he finished with 16 not out off 10 balls. His left-arm swingers did not take a wicket, but he was one of only two bowlers to complete his allocation.

India’s seamers all bowled without a fine leg and often only two fielders on the leg side, a tactic that worked well until Javid danced across to turn Netravalkar for four in the vast open areas that were supposed to be out of bounds to the English. The introduction of one of India’s great hopes of the future — the 17-year-old left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh — failed to stem the flow. Harmeet did remove Javid, but Stokes blasted him out of the attack with two consecutive straight sixes.

India’s reply was dominated by Agarwal, a dangerous right-hander with open-bladed strokes through the off side that produced a run-a-ball start. He refused to budge after Nathan Buck apparently had him caught low at second slip by Rafiq, and umpire Brian Jerling’s television referral failed to produce conclusive evidence the catch was legal. The next ball was driven for six over point and the Leicestershire paceman was driven for another six, straight, soon after.

England and Buck looked rattled, but then Stokes, on his golden day, removed Agarwal in his first over for 32 off 28 balls when Manuel on the point boundary slid his hand under the ball for a sensational running catch. Agarwal paused for a long time, as though expecting more television ’help’ but there was no doubt at all about his dismissal.

While Buck for a change looked ragged and not too threatening, his partner Payne stepped in to hole the Indian innings below the water line by having Menaria caught at second slip and finding a thinner edge from Harpreet, with wicketkeeper Michael Bates taking one of his five catches. As India slid to defeat, Javid intervened with a wicket to complete his own satisfying all-round day like a discount version of Stokes — which is saying something…

ENGLAND UNDER-19 (v India)
Joe Root (Yorks), Chris Dent (Gloucs), James Vince (Hants), Jack Manuel (Worcs), Ateeq Javid (Warwicks), Ben Stokes (Durham), Michael Bates (Hants, wkt), Azeem Rafiq (Yorks, capt), Adam Ball (Kent), David Payne (Gloucs), Nathan Buck (Leics).

Omitted: Jos Buttler (Somerset), Danny Briggs (Hants), Matthew Dunn (Surrey), Paul Best (Warwicks).

Coach: Mark Robinson (Sussex).

Copyright: Travis Pittman
Website: www.tjpittman.smugmug.com