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Sunday, 3 February, 2002, 11:34 GMT
Young England fail to bridge gap
Kyle Hogg batting against South Africa
Kyle Hogg: One of the few to enhance his reputation
After a disappointing showing at the Under-19 World Cup, Nick Hoult talks to team manager James Whitaker about the state of English youth cricket.

Comparisons with Australia are endemic in the English game and after a faltering Under-19 World Cup campaign, James Whitaker believes his side are lagging at least two years behind their old rivals.

The England squad left New Zealand having made little impression on the tournament after winning just two matches, and losing every game against credible opposition.

During their entire six week trip England's only victories were over South Australia, Nepal and Papua New Guinea, with four beatings at the hands of Australia highlighting their deficiencies against top-class opposition.

The performances of players with significant first-class experience, including captain Nicky Peng and all-rounder Bilal Shafayat, were unsatisfactory, and the wisdom of paying under-19 cricketers for their services has come under question.

Australia play at a level that our guys should be aiming at
James Whitaker

England's players were the only ones to be paid an appearance fee by their board, and were on more than 3,000 per man.

"The whole payment issue has to be examined," Whittaker said.

"I'm not saying they should not be paid at all but the payment should be linked to expenses or performance. We have to make sure as a governing body that there is a desire to succeed.

"Having said that, the lads did everything that Paul (Farbrace) and myself asked of them. They worked hard, they practiced when we told them to and they were a committed bunch."

Making the Grade

Throughout the tournament Australia, who meet the West Indies in the second semi-final on Wednesday, have showed an extra dimension to their game, and even with cricket at this level notoriously unpredictable, have lived up to their pre-tournament billing.

England spent two weeks in Australia before flying out to Christchurch and Whittaker, who played grade cricket during his career, believes they are a long way behind in terms of development.

"Australians grow up tougher and they grow up honest with themselves about their own ability. Their grade system is a tough breeding ground and it teaches them so much," he said.

England U19 team manager James Whitaker
Whitaker: England were not tough enough

"If they get a chance they make the most of it because they might not get another for three weeks. That breeds competitiveness.

"If you got our under-21 side together and they played the Australian team from this tournament then I think we would give them a game, but at this level we are at least two years behind them. Their batsmen get in and get 60 or 70 but ours failed to do that.

"We brought a better equipped side than to the last World Cup but we still need to go up a couple of notches in toughness to match the likes of Australia.

Plus points

"They are a naturally confident race and if 11 confident guys take the field at the same time they will be successful. The teams that wait around to get confidence are the ones that do not go too far."

There were some plusses for England with Lancashire's Kyle Hogg their most consistent player, and Nottinghamshire off-spinner Paul McMahon dependable.

Gloucestershire's Stephen Pope was one of the tidiest wicketkeepers in the competition, and 16-year-old seamer Tim Bresnan of Yorkshire improved as his confidence grew.

Shaun Marsh is the son of former Test opener Geoff
Shaun Marsh: One of Australia's young stars

"Unfortunately we did not perform well enough as a team and I would have liked to have seen two or three players grab the bull by its horns," Whittaker admitted.

"We only operated at about 50 or 60 per cent at best. There is a lot of ability in our squad but the mental toughness was not there."

It was at times such as the run chase against a gentle New Zealand bowling attack, and allowing Papua New Guinea to compile 222 for six that England's indiscipline came to the fore.

They also dropped three catches against Australia and in the crunch game against South Africa let their opponents add crucial runs at the end of the innings.

Whitaker's boys have seen at first hand the benchmark set by Australia, and if England they were in any doubt about the level they should be aspiring to, that is certainly not be the case now.

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