England suffer stage fright

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The Independent Online

Even allowing for England's defeat, this was a good place to be watching cricket. It is not every day you get to see so many young, willowy figures gracing the County Ground. And that was just the mums. The cricketers carried a little more muscle, but were also worth looking at.

Even allowing for England's defeat, this was a good place to be watching cricket. It is not every day you get to see so many young, willowy figures gracing the County Ground. And that was just the mums. The cricketers carried a little more muscle, but were also worth looking at.

Having qualified for this under-15 World Cup semi-final by winning their three group matches, England came here as favourites. They had certainly been playing good cricket. Costcutter may be the tournament's sponsor's name, but no expense has been spared preparing these lads. In 1996, the first time the competition was staged, England were caught cold first time out by the eventual champions, India. Last Sunday, again facing India in their opening match, they won by 81 runs. Even at this level, wins like that do not happen by chance.

What emerged then, and later in the week, was the enthusiasm of this England team under their captain and wicketkeeper, Tom New, from Nottinghamshire. They batted well against West Indies, to win by six wickets, but once more it was their balanced bowling that set up the victory. Particularly impressive have been their two off-spinners, Dan Broadbent, who has already played for Yorkshire Second XI, and James Beaumont, whose future is said to be linked to Aston Villa.

They were certainly the pick of England's bowlers yesterday, containing Pakistan after the seam attack had conceded far too many wides. Just as bad, the bowlers' lack of discipline transmitted itself around the field. It was not only a case of misfielding. Catches were dropped or went begging; two stumpings were missed off Broadbent; and several run-out opportunities wasted. A little more thought, a little less panic, was needed. While it is possible to plan for most things, there is no accounting for semi-final nerves.

Fortunately for England, their slow left-armer, Samit Patel, struck in the nick of time, bowling Zulqarnain Haider as he was taking the game away from them. Mohammed Naeem, Pakistan's other danger man - apart from his ambidextrous spin bowling - was then caught off Tim Swetman, who went on to close the innings with three wickets in the final over.

Chasing 191, England lost wickets too regularly to create a momentum. Patel, cheered on by generations of Patels on the boundary, put them ahead of the run rate with the game's highest score, 48, but with his dismissal went England's place in the final. Three successive run-outs reflected their disarray, and Pakistan, as in 1996, motored to Lord's.

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