England v India, Under-19 World Cup, Semi-final February 14, 2006

Indian batting provides greatest challenge



England will be hoping for more celebrations, but India will prove a tough challenge © Cricinfo Ltd
As the senior sides from England and India prepare to face each other in a much anticipated series, the Under-19 versions offer an enticing prospect in the first of the day/night World Cup semi-finals at the Premadasa Stadium. The two teams have arrived at the last four in contrasting styles; India have had few problems winning four out of four in the past week, whereas England were tested by Ireland, and lost to Zimbabwe, before pulling out all the stops against Bangladesh.

That win against Bangladesh was a vital result for a side that was still trying to bury the memories of their horror tour before Christmas, where they lost every match. The team had been far from convincing, finishing second in Group D, and the two-wicket defeat against Zimbabwe suggested they hadn't conquered their demons against spin. However, the batsmen successfully combated the Bangladesh attack - consisting of four left-arm spinners - to chase down 155.

It is the England spinners who have been their trump cards. The left-armers, Graeme White and Nick James, have been a revelation with White completing figures of 10-5-11-1 against Bangladesh. With Moeen Ali providing a useful option with his offspin, and the medium pace of Steven Mullaney having been a vital source of wickets, batsmen can't take liberties.

In their first warm-up match in Sri Lanka, England bowled out India for 158. But with the World Cup now at stake, and India in their stride, it is a very different challenge. How they perform against the powerful line-up, that can bat against spin in their sleep, will be a major factor. But Mullaney believes they are now a match for anyone: "We were saying after the Bangladesh win that if we bowl like that again there aren't many sides who could touch us."

However, India's top order has been in fine form, especially Gaurav Dhiman and Cheteshwar Pujara. Dhiman has produced some of the most flamboyant batting of the tournament - including a 71-ball 90 against Namibia and 74 off 56 balls against West Indies in the quarter-final. It was also against West Indies that Pujara came to the fore with 97. But the downside of the prolific form from the openers means the middle order has had limited time at the crease. This was evident in the quarter-final when Dhiman, Pujara and Rohit Sharma carried the score to 209 for 1 after 35 overs, only for the remaining batsmen to struggle with India finishing on 284 for 9.

Batting has become harder as the ball has grown softer, so the lesson for both teams will be to make the most of the fielding restrictions, as forcing the pace in the closing overs is not an easy task. However, even restricting India to a getable total is no guarantee of success.

They have a balanced attack, Dhiman also staring with the ball against West Indies, while Piyush Chawla is a highly promising legspinner; picking holes in this line-up is difficult. India will also be familiar with conditions at the Premadasa, having played all their group matches, and the quarter-final, at the ground. But this is the first day/night match for any team so they will need to adapt to playing under the lights

Despite their impressive form Venkatesh Prasad, India's coach, has called on his team to be even more ruthless. "What we are saying is why give the opposition a chance. We don't want even the thought of coming back into the match to cross the opposition's minds." England played one of their best matches of recent times to beat Bangladesh, but are going to have to produce the same again to stop a red-hot India.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

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