When a team from England comes down to India, the focus inevitably is on spin. Or rather about the visitors' discomfort in dealing with the same. This time around, when coach Tim Boon brought a group of keen Under-19 cricketers over to India, there was a lot that was different. For starters, the expressed aim of the England camp was not only the result at the end of the day. "Obviously we hate to lose, but winning isn't everything for us on this tour. If we can go back from this tour having found two or three quality players who will go on to play for England in two or three years, I would consider this tour a success," said Boon as the tour began.
Having lost the three 'Test' series 0-1 and the three One-Day series 1-2, the England team did have a rather dismal showing - on paper at least. Travelling with the team, it was quickly apparent that this was not the case at all. Every coach would look to see what positives were achieved after a tour that gave them so little joy on the cricket field. Easily the biggest positive of the tour has been the way skipper Ian Bell shaped up. The Warwickshire middle order batsman stood tall even as things around him fell to pieces. Scoring 573 runs from eight matches, Bell averaged a shade under 50. Easily the highest run getter on either side, Bell showed that he could play spin bowling on Indian pitches with the same degree of felicity as anything else. "It's not easy to come to India and win a series. It's definitely a feather in your cap if you can come to India and win a series, not just for the captain but for the whole side. If you can be successful in places like India and Pakistan you're going to go back to England with a good record. Then people are going to actually look out for you. That is a great chance for everyone in the side. If you do succeed here, you can get into your county sides and then there are steps forward," said Bell showing that he had his head screwed on the right way around in the captaincy department as well.
Another big find in the batting department was the talented Nicky Peng. Earlier in his career, Peng slammed 98 on first class debut for Durham and made people sit up and take notice. Even before arriving on Indian soil, Peng was hailed as the most naturally gifted of the England batsmen. However, it was unclear if this talent would turn itself into runs in foreign conditions. Striking a smart 132 in the Chennai 'Test' Peng proved that dusty tracks and good tweakers couldn't stand in the way of a determined and talented youngster. Notching up over 400 runs in seven matches, Peng was the one batsman in the visiting side who looked like he could win a match on his own.
Gary Pratt had the unenviable honour of being shifted up and down the order to strengthen the team's cause. The Durham lad did well in the opening slot, but was pushed down the order to bolster a sagging middle order. There too he displayed tremendous grit and defied the Indian spinners over long spells. After Bell, Pratt was the only batsman to cross the 500 run mark in the series. "I think today was the hottest it has been in the last three `Test' matches. It certainly felt a lot hotter than any of the other days. But I'm obviously very pleased at the end of the day to have a hundred against my name. We are playing in totally strange conditions. With the heat being what it is, concentration is much harder. The wickets are also so different. That's what makes it such a good experience to play here. However, If you go out with a positive frame of mind and not let the bowlers dictate, you will come out on top," said Pratt after cracking an invaluable 114 in the final 'Test' at Hyderabad.
In the bowling department, England were let down on more than one occasion. With occasional good performance from the lion hearted pair from Essex, mediumpacers Justin Bishop and Andrew McGarry, there was little in terms of support from the slower bowlers. While Monty Panesar was touted as the most talented spinner of the lot, but picked up just four wickets at 80 apiece, it was Kent left armer Robert Ferley who impressed the most. Unfortunately, Ferley did not play as much cricket as he should have on this tour and often did not have the opportunity to settle into a rhythm. In the eight matches he played, Ferley scalped 19 wickets, ending up second highest among both teams.
In the pack of seamers, Ian Pattison, Kyle Hogg, Chris Tremlett and Gordon Muchall, it was once again a bit of a disappointing show. Only the six foot seven inch tall Tremlett showed any sense of consistency. Bowling well within himself, the Hampshire all rounder adapted well to the conditions in India and outshone his peers. Picking eleven wickets at 35 apiece from six matches, Tremlett often bowled a very tight line and forced the Indian batsmen to make mistakes.
So then, we return to what Tim Boon said at the beginning of the tour. The result - loss in both the 'Test' and limited overs series is not the end of the world. As some wise man once said, "Sometimes, when you lose, you actually win and sometimes when you win, you actually lose." Some of the young English cricketers have definitely emerged winners even while the majority reveled in distinguished mediocrity. If only the visitors had a side that was a bit more balanced, one that did not depend so heavily on a few, the result would have been very different, Indian conditions or not.
England Under-19s in India Youth Test Series
England Under-19s in India Youth ODI Series
England Under-19s tour of India