MTN Under-19 World Cup

England captain Owais Shah celebrates his team's victory in the MTN Under 19 World Cup © M-Net SuperSport
England were the unexpected winners of the Under-19 World Cup in South Africa. The only previous tournament of its kind was held ten years earlier and won by hosts Australia, whose team included Stuart Law and Alan Mullally. But Jagmohan Dalmiya, the president of the International Cricket Council, announced that it was to be a biennial event henceforth.

Support for many of the matches was good, largely because of the efforts of the various provincial unions, who encouraged local schoolchildren to attend. India's game against Pakistan in Durban attracted a crowd of more than 10,000 and the final in Johannesburg between England and New Zealand was watched by about 6,000. Had South Africa qualified, their presence would have doubled the numbers at least.

In terms of cricketing "globalisation" - one of the buzzwords at the pre-tournament press conference - the World Cup was a bold and exciting venture. In addition to the nine Test-playing nations, there were teams from Bangladesh, Kenya and Scotland, the three countries who had qualified for the adult World Cup in 1999, plus Ireland, Denmark, Namibia and Papua New Guinea. The teams were divided into four pools, named after famous cricketers, and the top two sides from each progressed to two Super League pools, whose winners advanced to the final. In order to give everyone a decent amount of cricket, the non-qualifiers competed in a Plate League (with pools named after Mike Procter and South African selector Rushdie Majiet), won by Bangladesh, who beat West Indies in the final.

The spread of competitors naturally led to some mismatches, though one of the biggest wins was achieved by Denmark. Namibia scored only 78 against them in the Plate, having given away 87 in Extras. Papua New Guinea provided the most touching story of the tournament. They arrived in South Africa with only two leather bags of cricket equipment between them - as opposed to the sponsored "coffins" of many other teams. But after the Gauteng players heard of their plight, they received four coffins of kit donated by Ken Rutherford, the Gauteng captain, and his team-mates. Despite this help, they were predictably well beaten in all their matches. They were the only team West Indies beat in the Cowdrey Pool.

West Indies failed to qualify for the Super League after a fiasco concerning the composition of their squad. They arrived with seven players who contravened the age restrictions for the tournament, which required players from Test nations to be under 19 on September I, 1997 (players from the other countries could be eight months older). The West Indian authorities had observed the less stringent qualification rule that applied in their domestic Under-19 tournament. As a result, they had to fly in seven new players and their opening game was postponed for two days. It still came as a surprise when, after losing to Australia, they also succumbed to Zimbabwe and failed to go through.

The opening game of the tournament was played at the Wanderers between South Africa and India. After an opening ceremony between the innings, South Africa won by four wickets, with their wicket-keeper Mome van Wyk making a disciplined 86 not out. Both teams won their remaining games against Kenya and Scotland to qualify from the Gavaskar Pool. As expected, Pakistan headed the Bradman Pool, qualifying with Sri Lanka, whom they beat by seven wickets. In that match, Test player Hasan Raza made an unbeaten 90 for Pakistan, though his overall form was disappointing.

The eventual finalists, England and New Zealand, also met in the first match of the Sobers Pool; England won by four wickets in a closely fought game. But they lost their final match to Bangladesh, who received fanatical support from a small number of expatriates. Had Bangladesh scored the 224 they needed in 38 rather than 44 overs, they, and not England, would have qualified for the Super League. As it was, England and New Zealand went through on net run-rate and Bangladesh had to settle for the Plate.

The Super League, in which every game was covered live on South African satellite television, also threw up a number of shocks and tense finishes; both pools came down to net run-rate at the finish. England, from being down and almost out, beat Pakistan. who surprisingly lost all three of their games, but lost a rain-affected match to India.

Meanwhile, Australia had beaten India and Pakistan and were favourites to reach the final. Only a massive defeat by England could deny them: but that is precisely what they suffered. In front of a crowd of about 6,000 at Newlands, the England pace bowlers bowled better than at any stage of the tournament or, indeed, of their two-month tour of South Africa. Australia's prolific batsmen did not know what had hit them and were bowled out for only 147. England learned that, if they could reach the target in 33 overs or less, they would overhaul Australia on net run-rate. Aggressive hitting from Paul Franks and Stephen Peters took them there with nearly four overs to spare. It then emerged that the Australians and their coach, former Test captain Allan Border, had been unaware of the run-rate ramifications. England had to wait two days to be sure of their place in the final; but India, despite beating Pakistan to tie on points, failed to score quickly enough to pull ahead.

In the other pool. South Africa had beaten Zimbabwe easily and New Zealand less easily, needing another mature innings from van Wyk to get home. New Zealand, however, had beaten Sri Lanka, demolished Zimbabwe by ten wickets, and, thanks to opener James Marshall, did it speedily enough to boost their net run-rate. South Africa were still confident of beating Sri Lanka, which would make these calculations irrelevant. They scored 241), but their pace bowlers, who had been so disciplined thus far, succumbed to the pressure. A third-wicket partnership of 142 between Pradeep Hewage and Chamara Silva took Sri Lanka to 217 for three and, despite a late collapse, the winning boundary came off the penultimate ball. That ensured New Zealand joined England in the final, where a century from England's Peters won the day.

Three batsmen scored 300 runs in the tournament; Christopher Gayle, one of West Indies' seven replacements, made 364, Marshall of New Zealand 325 and Sri Lankan captain Hewage 316 at 105.33. MIuleki Nkala of Zimbabwe and Ramnaresh Sarwan of West Indies led the bowlers with 16 wickets each. Most teams contained a wrist-spinner; Goolam Bodi, the South African "chinaman" bowler, was one of the most impressive. Abdur Razzaq, of Pakistan, and the Indian Amit Bhandari were two of the more successful pace bowlers. Thomas Odoyo of Kenya was the leading all-rounder, with 293 runs and 15 wickets.

© John Wisden & Co