Australia miss the boys' party

Stephen Brenkley finds no Down Under team in junior world cup

Perhaps the most pertinent feature of the Under-15 World Cricket Challenge is that it is not quite what it claims to be. Whoever finish as the best of the eight countries can look optimistically to the future, but what will niggle them, probably beyond their teenage years and into their dotage, is that they will never truly be seen as world champions.

Perhaps the most pertinent feature of the Under-15 World Cricket Challenge is that it is not quite what it claims to be. Whoever finish as the best of the eight countries can look optimistically to the future, but what will niggle them, probably beyond their teenage years and into their dotage, is that they will never truly be seen as world champions.

That is for the simple reason that Australia have not entered a team. New Zealand are absent as well, but it is the lack of the Aussies that really matters, and the suspicion is that their non-participating 15-year-olds in 2000 will be lining up as 25-year-olds in 2010 ready to darken English souls, as well as those of most other cricketers around the world.

There are two interpretations being put on the decision of the Antipodean boys to stay at home when the competition, sponsored by Costcutter (and well done to them), is launched with an opening ceremony at Lord's on Saturday. The first is that their coaching of youngsters is disorganised, the second is that they are not entirely convinced of the benefits of hard-nosed competitive cricket at such a tender age.

There is credence to botharguments, but if the experience of the inaugural Under-15 championship four years ago is used as a yardstick the benefits are clear. Australia may not ultimately regret deciding against sending a team, but there can surely be no question that their cricketers would have learned by being here.

"It is an opportunity for boys from different countries to come together, to learn about each other's cricket certainly, but also about each other's cultures," said England's coach, Paul Farbrace. "Visits to St James's Palace and attending Lord's are both important for their development."

There is no doubt that England have made enormous strides in coaching young cricketers, especially those of genuine promise. Gone (largely) are the mix-and-match days of several schools organisations, none working in unison, often, it appeared, acting as rivals.

Nor have the England selectors taken the short-term view of picking simply the most formidable current squad, containing the biggest, strongest 15-year-olds. That would have been the easy way, it would not have been visionary (to this extent, perhaps the senior selectors can learn something).

"We are not saying in any way that we don't want to win the competition," said Farbrace. "Of course we do, and we've got a chance with some talented young players, but this is also about having a look at players who are promising and have potential, maybe some who aren't as big or as strong but who we think are going to have what it takes."

It is likely that England will struggle to win the Challenge. Four years ago they reached the semi-finals (unlike Australia, who were eliminated in the group stages having pitched up with a squad containing two players from each state) but the outstanding sides were India and Pakistan. They rightly contested the final at Lord's, which witnessed three pitch invasions as India won by four wickets.

England's performance will not provoke such passions, but it will be disappointing if several of this bunch do not emerge to play first-class cricket. It is dangerous to name names. So much can happen when a player joins a county at 17 or 18 - like not being given a proper opportunity for a start.

But take James Beaumont from Cleveland. He is a right- hand bat, an off-break bowler, a genuine all-rounder, and when he is 16 will probably sign for one of the several top football clubs seeking his talents.

Of the rest, Farbrace had words for Tom New, the wicketkeeper, a left-handed batsman of growing maturity and a captain with acumen. He also mentioned Samit Patel of Nottinghamshire as a potentially outstanding batsman and slow left-arm spinner. The latter has to be good news because it demonstrates, at last, that there is a will to attract young players from ethnic communities.

Farbrace's role is not based largely on honing their techniques, which they are being taught regularly back in their home regions. He is concerned with teaching them what he calls "nous". Little things such as backing up with the bat in the correct hand, walking in from the boundary - little things that must become second nature.

The likelihood is that this England team will acquit themselves well, as other teenagers have done before. So what happens next? "If only I knew the answer to that," said Farbrace. The final is at Lord's on Thursday 10 August.

England squad: Tom New (capt), Samit Patel (both Nottinghamshire); James Chervak, Andrew Parkin Coates, Dan Broadbent, Tim Bresnan, David Stiff (all Yorkshire); Adam Harrison, Nick Swetman (Glamorgan); Tim Rees (Lancashire); Alastair Cook (Essex); James Beaumont (Cleveland); James Hildreth (Somerset); Chris Goode (Northamptonshire).

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