Cricket: The importance of being Franks

Stephen Brenkley talks to one of the heroes of England's world youth triumph
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The Independent Online
PAUL FRANKS was being perfectly candid. As one of the heroes of England's resurgent victory in the Youth World Cup it would have been convenient, perhaps only natural, for him to ignore the indiscretions they committed on the way. Not a bit of it.

"We won it which we set out to do but we won it our own way, the difficult one," said the team's opening bowler, top order batsman and vice-captain who, at the age of 18, took 29 Championship wickets for Nottinghamshire last season. "We learned things on the way all right, perhaps more than we might like to have done or expected to before the tour began."

Franks and his under-19 colleagues left for South Africa last November. Their itinerary was arduous: a two-match Test series and a limited-over series against the hosts to be followed by the World Cup. It was always convivial, never easy and not until last Sunday when the winning runs were hit in the final against New Zealand could England say that things had come together.

They struggled at the start of the tour with the heat and the strange pitches. They drew the two Tests but only by hanging on for dear life in both matches after South Africa had made more than 500. Having made Houdini look primitive in the first match they were 117 for 7 in their first innings of the second when Franks strode to the crease. During an innings remarkable and exhilarating in any circumstances he made an unbeaten 117. The side were given fresh heart and the shackles seemed to have been loosened for good.

But the limited-over matches which followed brought two defeats. The batsmen were probably playing too many shots on good pitches, the bowlers were off line and it was hardly sound preparation for the World Cup.

"We were aware that we weren't playing as well as we should but team spirit never once faltered," said Franks. "We weren't fretting about our World Cup form because we didn't know what to expect from the other sides and we knew we'd come good if we kept working at it."

The structure of the tournament virtually guaranteed them progress to the Super League, given that some countries remain for the moment much weaker than others. Yet after a solid early win against Pakistan they proceeded to lose their last preliminary stage match to Bangladesh and played appallingly in the process.

"We were up and down until the end," Franks said. "The manager Phil Neale and the coach John Abrahams didn't say too much at the end because they'd said everything already earlier in the tour."

At the last came the tour's highest points. Peak when it is absolutely vital, the sporting sages say, and England did. In what amounted to the semi-final they dismisssed Australia for 147. Franks and his new-ball partner Richard Logan were incisive early on and never let the Australians settle in. They had to get the runs quickly to beat the Aussies on overall run rate and Franks, batting at No 3 in the one-day side, smashed 40 in 32 balls.

England qualified for the final and while it was not a canter they won in comfort with Stephen Peters' big-time century. If Franks was disappointed with his own bowling ("maybe expecting it to come too easily after Australia," he said frankly) it was the milestone the team had worked towards for three months.

"My personal highlights were the Test century and the whole match against Australia," Franks said. "Any win against them at any level matters." If under-19 cricketers recognise that maxim, then the future is indeed in secure hands.

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