England v Pakistan, Under-19 World Cup, 1st semi-final, Dubai February 24, 2014

We bettered our expectations - Rhodes

Since winning the Under-19 World Cup in 1998, England had made it to the semi-finals in 2004 and 2006 but their performances in the next three World Cups were underwhelming. That they actually made it to the final four in 2014 and were within touching distance of entering the summit clash has come as a surprise to the players themselves, starting with their captain Will Rhodes.

A look at England's performances in the build-up to the World Cup could explain why expectations back home may have been low. They had failed to win any of their three series, including getting thrashed 5-0 by South Africa and losing two tri-series finals to Pakistan, back at home and again in the UAE late last year. In contrast, India had won all four series they had played and ironically, England will finish the World Cup with a higher position.

"I think we have bettered them (expectations)," Rhodes said after losing a tense semi-final to Pakistan. "Every team comes here to win the tournament and we genuinely thought we could win it - but we didn't think we would play such good cricket as we have.

"We knew we could play good cricket but we have never really strung it together in previous tours. To do that was fantastic."

England recorded comprehensive wins against UAE and New Zealand, but their matches against Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan went down to the wire. They beat the defending champions India in the quarter-finals and made Pakistan sweat after posting a modest 204.

"We haven't been in that situation before in an England shirt, a few of us have done it for our counties, but to experience it at a ground like this on such a big stage, was nerve-racking," Rhodes said. "It was the first time a few of us had fielded under the lights as well, which never helps but it was something we can learn from and take into the summer."

Pakistan had recovered from a wobbly 57 for 4 via a fifth-wicket stand of 74 but once England broke through, there was a heated exchange between a few of their players and Zafar Gohar. Both teams later played down the incident, and Rhodes said that what happens on the field stays on the field.

"It was just the heat of the moment. We have played against Pakistan so many times and have got to know their lads well," Rhodes said. "A few words never hurt anyone. I don't know what was said, it is all past now and there are no regrets."

The defining period of the match was the 63-run eighth-wicket stand between Gohar and Amad Butt which sealed the game for Pakistan. Rhodes said previous series between the two sides had enough evidence of Pakistan's ability to bounce back.

"The two lads at the end batted really well and unfortunately we couldn't get one of them out," he said. "We were expecting that but we always believed we could get through them and take the wickets. Unfortunately we couldn't do that, but we can learn from it about bowling to tailenders more efficiently. It is something we can improve on."

Rhodes singled out the 16-year old Matthew Fisher for being able to take the lead, with figures of 2 for 21 off ten. "I thought the bowlers were outstanding. Young Matthew Fisher was unbelievable again, to bowl 10 overs for 20 in the semi-final of a World Cup when he is only 16 is magnificent."

The allrounder Rhodes too led from the front with 76 off 79 balls, coming in when his side was limping at 69 for 4 in 22 overs. His knock ensured that England salvaged whatever they could in the 50 overs.

"I owed the lads a score today. I have got to 30 numerous times in the past six months and only really gone on once," he said. "Today I said it was going to be my day. The mood at the half-time interval was that we really thought we could bowl Pakistan out or defend the total within 50 overs."

It's been a rewarding journey for Rhodes, who hails from the small Yorkshire village of Cottingham. He says getting into the cricket system was tough, with the county ground "being so far away." Having already played limited-overs games for Yorkshire, the expectations on him may only get bigger.

Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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