Cricket: Raza dazzles England with lesson in style

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The Independent Online
England 260 and 58-2 Pakistan 331

DAVID GRAVENEY came to this Under-19 match last Friday to reassure the England players that he and the other selectors take these games seriously. Some of their counties believe their boys would be better employed in Championship cricket, but for Graveney and John Abrahams, the team coach, these games are well worth it because they take promising players away from a comfortable county environment and teach them the meaning of pressure; they also play against players some of them will meet again as adults.

An average of one in five Under-19 players finally make it to England's grown-up team, so two or three of the players in the field yesterday will have learned never to underrate the tenacity of Pakistani cricketers (the last three wickets added 71, the exact sum of their first innings lead), and that bowling to Hasan Raza can be arduous, frustrating, and only intermittently rewarding.

Raza is the mere boy who became the youngest Test player, aged 14 years and 277 days old. He has now reached the advanced age of 16 years and 158 days, though he already plays like a mature Pakistani batsmen - wristy with plenty of time to play. Indeed, Raza is so mature that some cynics in the press box simply don't believe 11.3.82 - his date of birth.

Raza is a fidget, touching bat, pad, helmet and shirt between deliveries, but there is nothing wrong with his concentration. He batted two hours and 19 minutes for his 70, and in 85 minutes before and after lunch Raza and Faisal Iqbal put on 110, turning the advantage towards Pakistan, before both became victims of Paul Franks, a fierce young man from Nottinghamshire, who formed a convincing opening attack with Jamie Grove of Essex.

Franks is one of six players in this England Under-19 team who are playing regular county cricket. The others are Robert Key of Kent, Michael Gough of Durham, Graeme Swann from Northants, Stephen Peters of Essex and the captain, Owais Shah of Middlesex.

By the time Abrahams has finished with them he knows who can bat through a session or bowl 10 good overs on the trot. "You watch them mature in front of your eyes," he says. Shah is the one most likely to succeed. He scored 96 on the first day, and he may be the best illustration of Abrahams' theory about pressure in the international game.

While Abrahams praises Shah's dedication, at Middlesex his mentors claim that he is picking up bad habits - for instance, not putting in the net practice needed to eradicate false strokes.

The pressure seemed to get to Shah when the Pakistani tail started clouting his bowling around. With Franks off the field with hamstring problems, he was unable to exploit the advantage gained when four middle-order wickets fell for 59 runs. Shah persevered far too long with the leg spin of Lancashire's Chris Schofield, whose six overs bowled at the last-wicket pair cost 31 runs.

A lead of 71 began to look decisive when England started to lose wickets before the close of play, which they reached still 13 runs behind the Pakistanis. As they trudged off the field, the England players could have sought comfort from the fact that eight of England's winning team against South Africa had played for the Under-19s. (I'll put you out of your misery right away; the three who didn't are Alec Stewart, Graeme Hick and Angus Fraser).

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