The touring England Under-19 team has come to India with the objective of 'learning' - learning the art of spin bowling and the technique of playing the spinning delivery. The coach of the team made it clear on arrival that the tour was a learning experience.
The stand in manager, Graham Saville, mentioned that he was amazed to see the high standard of cricket all around Mumbai. "Cricket was a heritage that we gave to you, It was you who have taken it up and done so well with it" he added. The ECB, it is learnt, is following the tour with keen interest as they are convinced no cricketer is complete without the Asian experience.
The itinerary consists of three `Test' matches and an equal number of limited over games. Each match is being recorded and a regular feedback is given to the ECB. The team management has studied the tapes and the players are displaying signs of improvement, as the tour progresses.
The England Test side has almost always gone back from Asia with a heavy package of excuses. The Mumbai leg of the tour was similar to the experiences of their seniors. The young lads had a taste of defeat and diarrhoea in the Western region of the country. The seniors always walked back complaining of the curry and spinners. The juniors did not do much of complaining but went back with similar results.
Seven of the touring boys were down with diarrhoea in Pune. The three day game was washed out and they could have a hastily arranged one day game on the third day.
The two first class matches played in Mumbai had similar results. The Rest of India team handed the visitors a ten wicket defeat at the MIG grounds and they went down in the first 'Test' by 167 runs against the current World champions, the India Under-19. And each time, one spin bowler has caused the damage.
The ROI game was dominated by the tweakers of the Karnataka offspinner Mulewa Dharmichand. He never gave an inch to the batsmen all through the innings, bagging twelve in the match. Thereafter the visitors did their home work well, in terms of handling the destructive off spinner in the first 'Test', as they studied his armoury of deliveries following the MIG game. The recording helped.
Skipper Ian Bell and Gary Pratt stuck into the offspinner early on, unsettling his line and length. The homework paid off and he could not scalp more than three wickets in the entire `Test'.
The tourists were pleased to overcome their nemesis and seemingly went well prepared into the first 'Test'. In fact, they fared well initially, taking the lead in the first innings.
It was hay and sunshine until the third day of the 'Test'. The visitors had their first look at the Tamil Nadu left arm spinner Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan in the first 'Test'. The tall bulky spinner was a member of the victorious Under-19 World Cup squad. He did not get a game in that series but he had a handful of wickets in Mumbai.
It seemed certain at the lunch interval that the visitors would save the game. Not in the wildest dreams could have anyone imagined that they would slide from 160 for one to 183 all out. They tourists seemed pleased when they dismantled Dharmichand but little did they realise that they would come a cropper against Vidyut who kept a nagging line, teasing and taunting the Englishmen. He turned on the heat after the lunch session returning the magical figures of eight for 38.
The pitches played an important part in both the games. The MIG wicket was fast and had life in it for the medium pacers to extract. The Wankhede wicket on the other hand was the typical turner that it is famous for. Not so long ago, Murali Kartik, another left arm spinner displayed a similar performance, bagging nine Mumbai wickets in the Irani Trophy.
The tourists must have learnt a lot from their playing experience in the Western region. The game at MIG was watched by former India players like Dilip Vengsarkar, Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Hanumant Singh as also former NCA coach Vasu Paranjpe. The lads picked up some useful tips from them. There was the regular sight of Hanumant Singh giving tips to the young left arm spinner Monty Panesar.
The tour so far has given clear indications that players like Gary Pratt, Ian Bell, Robert Ferley and Mark Wallace are the lads to watch out for as prospective players to the senior side in the near future.
The tourists begin the second leg of the tour in the Southern region of the country. The south has been the nursery of some of the most outstanding spinners in the country. As the coach Tim Boon said, " We are here to learn." Well, the learning process will continue in the South Zone.