England v Nepal, U-19 World Cup Group D February 6, 2006

England U-19s off to winning start

England 209 for 9 (Ali 54, Nelson 40) beat Nepal 132 (Hamilton-Brown 3-17) by 77 runs

Moeen Ali with his Man-of-the-Match award after his fifty against Nepal © Getty Images
England were made to work hard in their opening match of the World Cup, as a talented Nepal team gave them more than the occasional moment of uncertainty. Moeen Ali was the lone batsman to pass fifty, as Nepal's spinners tied down the middle order. However, that was nothing compared to the stranglehold the England slow bowlers subsequently created and, despite a promising start, Nepal's run chase subsided meekly.

When Nepal reached 41 without loss in pursuit of 210, the possibility of the first upset in the tournament flickered into view. Kanishka Chaugai, Nepal's captain and playing in his third U-19 World Cup, had laid into Mark Nelson and Andrew Miller operating with the new ball. However, playing a ball through the off side, Chaugai grabbed his leg and it soon became clear he was suffering a repeat of the cramp that affected him during the warm-up matches.

Ali, who has already impressed as England's captain in Sri Lanka, pulled his team together for a mid-over huddle. He later told Cricinfo that it is something they have been doing for a while: "When things are not going our way we just want to get everyone together. It's something that works at the moment so we will continue doing it."

As in the warm-up match against India, Ali was not afraid to throw the ball to his spinners early in the innings. Graeme White was in action by the seventh over and, in tandem with fellow left-armer Nick James, produced an extraordinary example of containment. The first 27 balls from the pair leaked just one run, and the pressure was telling on the anxious batsmen. The inevitable then occurred when Sarad Vesawkar smacked the ball to mid-off, only to watch his partner fail to get within two meters of making his ground.

Between overs seven and 21, White, James and Ali conceded a miserly 17 runs as Nepal couldn't decide whether to stick or twist and threatened to fold. Prem Chaudhary finally decided to chance his arm, taking two fours off Ali before creaming a four and six off White - who had previously gone for only six runs in 8.4 overs.

Run outs, though, were always on the cards as skittish batsmen continued to flirt with danger. They lived on the edge while there were two of them out there - the introduction of a runner when Chaugai returned to the middle was always going to be a recipe for calamity. So it proved, and Nepal's last real chance of pressuring England's total vanished when Chaudhary was removed by a smart piece of fielding from James.

England's fine display in the field was capped by a stunning catch from White, who ran backwards from midwicket, flung out his right hand while diving athletically and grabbed the ball inches off the turf. The whole team were ecstatic, but Ali was quick to admit it was a far from ideal performance.

"We didn't play anywhere near our best cricket," he said. "We were lucky to get 209 in the end, then we had a bad start with the bowling but fortunately we finished strongly. But after hearing that the Aussies got 300 plus yesterday we wanted something similar but couldn't manage it so that is something to work on for the next game."

Ali added that he had "really struggled" during his 54, but without it England would really have been in a pickle. From the comfort of 87 for 1 the innings stalled dramatically as Nepal's spinners probed away. England weren't exempt from running issues either. They managed three, including Rory Hamilton-Brown's passable impression of Mike Atherton at Lord's in 1993, scrambling on his hands and knees to fall well short of his crease.

In the end, England stood up and dusted themselves off from their batting disappointments, ensuring their World Cup run was off to a winning start. Nepal, though, have shown that they are not simply here to make up the numbers. They have plenty of heart and skill; the other teams in this group could well be in for a surprise.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo