December 13, 2001

Christian leads Blues' recovery in national Under-19 Final

A late order recovery has helped New South Wales escape trouble on an engrossing opening day of the national Under-19 Championship Series Final against Queensland in Newcastle today. By stumps, the Blues had scrambled their way to a score of 8/210 after courting danger at several times during the day.

All-rounder Daniel Christian (56*) was the key figure in the revival, joining with Brad Roworth (37), Gary Geise (22) and James Allsopp (12*) respectively in vital late stands that extricated the home team from a potentially grisly predicament.

Four wickets had tumbled in the opening session, and another three fell between lunch and tea, to leave the Queenslanders well placed in their bid for three consecutive national titles.

But Christian's industry, at number eight in the order, stalled the charge.

It wasn't necessarily pretty cricket, and the final session in particular - which yielded a mere 45 runs in total - was dominated by maiden overs.

Yet it was just what the doctor ordered for the locals after the Queenslanders had made a series of important early inroads.

There had been nothing in the play at the start of the day to suggest New South Wales' imminent decline as the Blues won the toss, batted first, and steadily made their way to a score of 29 without loss before a small but supportive local crowd.

But, following the two-day game's opening drinks break, the complexion of proceedings altered dramatically.

It was fast bowler Nathan Rimmington (2/46), a key player in Queensland's win in the corresponding game 12 months ago, who decisively wrested the initiative his team's way.

After a patient innings from Jarrad Burke (1), the New South Wales captain was defeated by a fine delivery which cut away marginally off the seam, edging a catch to Julian Nielsen at first slip. And then another major blow was landed from the very next ball as Mark Faraday (0) played around the line of a straight delivery to be bowled. Rimmington's hat-trick attempt was averted but matters became no easier for the home team in the short term.

Opener Jason Krezja (29) and middle order batsman Steve Karam (29) adopted a vigilant approach, shoring up the defences and trying to work singles wherever possible.

The bowling remained highly disciplined, though, and it wasn't long before right arm paceman Chris McCabe (1/19) was able to compound the Blues' woes. After a long period of general inactivity on the scoreboard, the right armer extracted an outside edge from Krezja's bat on the stroke of lunch to present a grateful Nielsen with another catch at slip.

The loss of the in-form Krezja's wicket drove a stake deeply through the heart of the Blues' cause, given that it came just a day after he had showcased his talents with a brilliant double century against South Australia.

Fast bowler John Loader (3/36) maintained the young Bulls' momentum after the break by enticing Brett Eriksson (2) to brush a low leg side catch off the line of his hip to wicketkeeper Murray Bragg and then forcing Karam to outside edge a delivery of excellent length. The Blues, by this stage, were in a near-desperate predicament at 6/82.

It was from there that the recovery took effect.

Before falling to a catch at extra cover from off spinner Aaron Maynard (1/25), Roworth unfurled a suitably belligerent innings that featured one glorious six over square leg in the midst of a series of fine attacking strokes.

Though Geise eventually became another Loader victim as he defended down the wrong line, he was another to resist the Queensland bowlers for a long period.

And, all the while, Christian was adding to the visitors' frustration too with a dogged mixture of jaw-jutting defiance and the occasionally aggressive shot.

Queensland captain Craig Philipson tried a range of options in a bid to shift his increasingly stubborn opponents but found few ways through their defences. His task was also made more difficult by the fact that his pace bowlers had bowled close to their allotted quotas of 20 overs for the day by early in the final session.

Elsewhere in Newcastle, all-rounder Cameron Viney (6/20) snared tournament-best bowling figures to help Tasmania skittle Western Australia for 123 in the battle for third place. Tasmania was 1/24 in its reply by stumps.

Victoria, meanwhile, was at 4/93 in response to South Australia's 175 in the contest for fourth place.

And, after it was forced to make a late start as the result of a damp outfield, the Australian Capital Territory had reached a score of 9/233 by the close of play in its match against the Northern Territory.