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'We piled on Allan Border in a pub': England U19s' class of 98 relive victory

The Guardian logo The Guardian 14/01/2020 Ali Martin
Owais Shah wearing a suit and tie: Photograph: Tim Ockenden/PA Archive/PA Images © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Tim Ockenden/PA Archive/PA Images

Away from the senior team’s ongoing Test tour of South Africa, but not too far away, the latest batch of starry-eyed English teenagers are preparing for the ICC Under-19 World Cup and their opening fixture against West Indies in Kimberley on Monday.

Lancashire’s George Balderson leads a squad that includes seven players with county experience. The Spin is keen to see more of Joey Evison of Nottinghamshire, a seam-bowling all-rounder, and Jack Haynes, an elegant right-hander from Worcestershire. But between 17 January and 9 February there will be plenty who catch the eye. The 16-team tournament – the 13th edition and a first for Japan and Nigeria – is being hosted by South Africa for only the second time, having previously done so in 1998 when a slightly unfancied England side went on to lift the trophy under the captain Owais Shah and head coach John Abrahams.

Five of that crop went on to win full international caps – Shah, Graeme Swann, Rob Key, Paul Franks and Chris Schofield – with three of them, plus Abrahams, recently pestered into sharing their memories of what was a lively campaign…

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Rob Key: It came at the end of a long tour in South Africa (two drawn Youth Tests and a 2-0 defeat in a series of three one-day internationals) and it seemed like an eternity. We’d all been with each other for so long the coaches were probably as sick of us as we were of them. So we almost felt on a win-win … we’d either win games and go the whole way, or lose and go home early. So it freed us up a bit.

Graeme Swann: We were a bunch of 18/19-year-olds, the pound was very strong, the beer was cheap and it was a very fun trip. There weren’t many sensible heads and we had a pretty laissez-faire attitude to sleep …

Paul Franks: Haha, that might have been how Swanny was living his life at the time. I’m not sure I was! I was bowling a lot of overs and so wasn’t on the Castle Lager as much as some of the others.

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GS: At one point [after a tour game] the coaches, John Abrahams and Phil Neale, sat us down and said: “If you know best, fine. Do it yourself.” I think we were meant to say sorry, but we went “OK”. I’m not proud of it but it was a sign of a headstrong side.

John Abrahams: Swanny clearly remembers it better than I do. They weren’t that cocky but I think we felt we’d said as much as we could by that stage of the tour, good plans had been put in place, and so we left them to work it out for themselves.

Having beaten Namibia and New Zealand – but suffered a surprise defeat to Bangladesh – England progressed to the Super Eight phase of the tournament, which featured two groups of four and the top side from each going through to the final. After beating Pakistan but losing to India, England’s final group game at Newlands was against Australia, who sat top after two healthy wins over the others …

RK: We went into that final group game thinking we couldn’t go through. I was rooming with Franksy and he had packed his suitcase to get the next flight out. It just seemed like too big a margin of victory was required to progress on run-rate.

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PF: I wasn’t the only one to pack my bags. Keysy is just the type of person who’d leave it to the last minute regardless, whereas I’m organised. It wasn’t negative, just realistic.

GS: We’d been hammered by an India side with Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh in it and Australia had smashed everybody. But we rolled them for bugger all (147 all out in 47.2 overs). Richard Logan, Paul Franks and, ahem, myself bowled like geniuses.

PF: There was a dodgy caught-behind that started it. Nick Wilton, our wicketkeeper and one of the nicest guys you can meet, was mortified after seeing it had fallen short on the replays later. I thought it just looked rego. We were facing a small target and the coaches were right on it in terms of what we needed to do.

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JA: We’d studied the tournament rules closely and identified that if we got the runs in under a certain number of overs (33) we’d finish above them. Phil Neale checked with the ICC officials. We actually were in a seating area with the Australians during the chase and we asked to have the TV commentary turned down and said it was affecting our batsmen waiting to come in … and we didn’t want Australia to cotton on. The longer it went without them realising the situation, the better it was for us.

RK: Franksy came in at No 3 as a pinch-hitter and when he started smashing it around (41 from 34 balls), it dawned on us that we had a chance. Clearly the Aussies didn’t realise and they thought they could beat us by keeping the field up and forcing us to slog a few in the air. They barely had a sweeper out all innings.

PF: We didn’t say anything to them while it was unfolding. Eventually the message must have filtered through but by that stage we were two-thirds of the way there [eventually winning by six wickets in 29.1 overs].

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RK: After winning that game we went to a pub in Newlands – the Green Man – and the Aussies came in. They had a “dick of the day” rule that saw the person who’d messed up forced to wear an awful Hawaiian shirt and shorts combo in the evening. Allan Border [the team manager] was the one sporting it for not realising the equation during the match. It was very surreal.

PF: It was very funny. We nailed him. In fairness, in true Aussie fashion – and after a few scoops – he took it well.

GS: The two teams had a good night together. I just remember someone shouting “pile-on!” and all of a sudden all the England players jumped on Border. He was a legend, someone I pretended to bowl to during Ashes matches in my back garden growing up, and here I was on top of him on the floor of a pub. I look back at it with incredulity.

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JA: I think Phil and I had left the pub by that stage, thankfully. I do remember Australia’s captain, Tim Anderson, coming to our hotel after the match to say “well done” to us and thought what a great example that was; exactly how you’d want a young cricketer to be.

Confirmation of England’s place in the final came after India failed to beat Pakistan by a heavy-enough margin, with New Zealand meeting them at the Wanderers in front of a crowd of 6,000. Set 242 to win, a confident 107 from the opener Stephen Peters and a cool unbeaten 54 by Shah set up a seven-wicket win with four overs to spare.

GS: I remember on the day of the final just having absolute belief we’d win it. We’d beaten them in the initial group stage and then Australia, who’d looked unstoppable, so that was the teenager’s logic: we’ll win. The only time I have felt like that since was during the 2010 World T20.

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JA: Giles Haywood bowled magnificently, wicket to wicket medium-pace, to restrict them (three for 18 from 10 overs) and then Stephen Peters played a superb innings, cutting powerfully. Owais Shah was experienced enough to take us over the line only for Swann (at No 5) to seal it with a leg-bye and take all the credit. Personally it was a massive moment. My family had to leave South Africa for political reasons – my dad came over to play league cricket in Lancashire in 1961, a year after Basil D’Oliveira – so to go back there as part of a group that won a World Cup was special.

RK: Winning felt like a big moment. But it was almost like the end of our childhood as cricketers too. Weirdly it was also probably one of the most important events of my life: in 2004, as a past winner, I got the call to do some punditry for Sky on that year’s tournament. Who knows if I’d be doing it now if we hadn’t?

PF: To win a World Cup was special. We played against some fantastic cricketers along the way. I got a bit overwhelmed in the final and didn’t bowl well. But we always felt we had enough match-winners. They were four whirlwind days from the Australia game through to the final and it sits right up there among my career highlights.

And the message to the current England Under-19s team?

RK: Have fun and you will make friends for life. And I always say, if you can’t have a bit of confidence and swagger at that age then you never will.

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JA: The people they play alongside and against will keep appearing throughout their careers. It’s a massive opportunity for them but if it doesn’t go well, it’s not the be-all-and-end-all either. It’s a stepping stone.

PF: I just hope they embrace it. There is a danger of trying too hard but just look to immerse yourself in everything and get as much out of it as you can.

GS: You have to have the utmost belief in yourself and the system that you have come from. It is as good as any in the world. People talk about Australian grade cricket or the South African public school system but the English system is just as good. So if you believe in yourselves – and you have a bloody good off-spinner – you have a chance.

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