Cricket: Weston passes second test

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England U-19 136-4 v Sri Lanka U-19

IF ONE were selecting a team of the world's best young players, the following XI would take some beating: Brian Lara, Michael Atherton, Mark Ramprakash, Jimmy Adams, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Chris Lewis, Chris Cairns, Moin Khan, Mushtaq Ahmed, Aqib Javed, Narendra Hirwani.

The common thread connecting these disparate strands of talent is that each has graduated to Test level via his country's under-19 nursery, an increasingly plentiful source of well-primed young talent. Granted an early taste of the pressures and demands of international conflict, these pupils have been able to step up with, if not ease, then certainly more haste than would otherwise be the case.

Given the prospect of a lengthy struggle merely to establish themselves at county level, it will probably take longer for the members of the present England Under-19 team to ascend the next rung of the ladder than it will their counterparts.

Still, Mark Lathwell and John Crawley, whose strident strokeplay helped secure a drawn series against Australia a year ago, could well find themselves on this winter's A tour. Damian Martyn, who led that Australian side, has already gone the whole hog: the Western Australian batsman is presently hob-nobbing it with Allan Border and company in Sri Lanka.

Boasting six players with county first XI experience against a collection of enthusiastic ambassadors from an island with no domestic first-class structure, it was hardly surprising that England should have had the edge in the first four-day 'Test' of this three-match series against Sri Lanka. Having dug themselves out of a pit of 1 for 3 on the opening morning at Headingley, England ultimately fell two wickets short of victory.

Yesterday's second instalment did not begin until 2.20, an overnight deluge having conspired with a delay in retrieving some of the covers from Weston, where Somerset had been playing the previous day. Inserted on an ominously green strip, England were doubtless grateful that the tourists' forte is spin, so much so that they brought six twirlers over and could afford to leave behind Muralitharan, the teenage prodigy who teased England A to distraction at Katunayake last year.

Spared an ordeal by pace, England were 47 to the good by the time Sajith Fernando's off-breaks were introduced in the 16th over. The muscle was provided by Darren Robinson, a chunky, hard-hitting Essex boy, the finesse by his captain, Philip Weston, a lanky left- hander who also bowls on the fastish side of medium.

That said, it was seam that achieved the breach when Pulashui Gunaratne had Robinson leg-before, Fernando striking in the next over when Malachy Loye was caught behind flailing recklessly.

These are perplexing times for the accomplished Weston, who has scored nearly 600 runs for Worcestershire since making his first-class debut against Pakistan in May. He survived three slip chances yesterday to supplement his century at Leeds with a responsible 77. Having spurned a place at Oxford in order to further his cricketing education, he is at present mulling over an offer from Cambridge, but is likely to turn that down for the same reason.