ENGLAND'S Under-19 Test record over the past 20 years (played 58, won 8) would appear to suggest that it is ideal grooming for the real thing, in that they do not win very often. However, one or two encouraging signs are now emerging. If it would be an exaggeration to describe the flower of English youth as blooming, it is at least an improvement on blooming awful.
In the past three years, the Under-19s have doubled their tally of victories in the previous 17, possibly because people in high places have started to take an interest in them. Over the past couple of days at Edgbaston, they have been visited by Raymond Illingworth, Keith Fletcher, A C Smith and Micky Stewart, and together with the manager, Graham Savile, and a couple of coaches in Geoff Arnold and Mike Hendrick, the Test and County Cricket Board blazered brigade has very nearly doubled the attendance.
If Thursday's rain-affected opening day was a vision of the future, then it was best done with eyes tightly closed, which is how England's batsmen appeared to be playing India's bowling. However, from 27 for 5 overnight, they rallied to 381 all out, and Somerset's highly touted left- handed opener, Marcus Trescothick, enhanced his blossoming reputation with an innings of 206 made in a shade over five hours, with 31 fours and three sixes.
Trescothick, dropped twice in the slip area early on, lists bat repairing as among his hobbies, which is probably something he had to learn from an early age given his violently uncomplicated method. Even so, this was a mild Indian attack - more korma than vindaloo - and the question for Stewart, England's director of coaching, was whether Trescothick might have learned more from playing for Somerset in the County Championship.
'Not at all,' Stewart said. 'There are different pressures in playing for your country, and as the best player we had left at 27 for 5, there was a lot on his shoulders. And as for the value of our representative cricket at this level, it has altered from a laughing stock to a meaningful filter system for the Test side in the space of three to four years.'
Stewart is a passionate believer in properly coached representative cricket at junior level, given that English youngsters, unlike those in other countries, are brought up in a less competitive environment. It is still very much a social game in this country, with the No 3 batting spot as likely to go to a bald-headed bloke whose wife makes the cucumber sandwiches as the hyper-talented lad barely out of short trousers.
Much the same is true of the county circuit, which is not so much a nursery for seedlings as hardy perennials. Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting are both on the plane to Australia, Eddie Hemmings is still twirling away for Sussex, and team managers and coaches, dependant on results to remain in employment, are generally inclined to toss in youngsters only at the shallow end. Now that the conveyor belt is operating, it is time to make sure it has somewhere better to go.Reuse content