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India tour review: 1st XI develop and grow in challenging conditions ahead of English summer

In some ways the bare statistics make sobering reading. One victory in six matches suggests this tough trip was a bridge too far for a young side still learning the technical and tactical sides of the game.  There again, where better to learn than in the pressure cooker that is modern Indian.cricket?

First, let’s ape the professionals and take the positives.  All the key batsman got starts. Jack Berg with 50 against St Kabir (match 5) and Will Greenall with 33 against Vengsarkar Academy (match 3) followed by 71 against Gujarat Lions (match 6) played the most memorable innings, but there was plenty to praise elsewhere.

Denil Manuel with 42 against Vengsarkar Academy (match 3) and 46 against SGVP School (match 4), along with Tom Chandler, 48 against SGVP School (match 4) and 32 against Gujarat Lions (match 6), were among the most prominent with bat in hand. Other highlights included Matt Avant Smith’s 41 against Vengsarkar Academy (match 1), Mikey Ford, 29* against Jwala Academy (match 2) and Pravin Kiritharan with 27 against St Kabir School (match 5).

So the first conclusion to draw is that this is a side in which five batsmen made scores over forty, and three of them went past thirty more than once. This is not a side that needs to be short of runs as the English season approaches.  There is plenty of talent with the willow in these ranks.  But there are two complicating factors. 

The first is that these batting statistics tell another less reassuring tale: eight scores over thirty but only one of more than fifty. In short, there was a tendency to surrender wickets when well set.

The second complication is learning to play under pressure. Twice on this tour, Hampton batsmen spent five hours winning the game and half an hour losing it; unfortunately, the wrong half hour. Twice in six matches, defeat was drawn from the jaws of victory.  One is tempted to say – Who dares wins, since on both occasions there was a collective loss of nerve. In cricket (of all sports) victory falls to those who breathe in deep and count to ten, as the last half hour of the tour illustrated.

So to the bowling.  Again there were numerous excellent performances. Kyle Seth with 3 for 15 in the first Vengsarkar match and 3 for 34 against Jwala Academy made a strong start to the tour, and Kiritharan with 2 for 18 against SGVP Academy and 3 for 19 against Gujarat Lions came through strongly at the end.  Other stand-out performances included Chandler with 2 for 18 and Alfie Simonds Gooding with 2 for 19 in the second Vengsarkar match, Avant Smith with 3 for 9 against SGVP Academy, and Gurmeher Samra with 2 for 32 against Gujarat Lions.

These figures suggest that this is a side with a remarkable hand of spin bowlers. True, no slow left armers, but at least three off-break bowlers caught the eye,  and (more remarkably perhaps) three accomplished leg spinners.

To revert to an earlier theme, this was a feature of the team with courage in abundance.  At least twice on this tour the opposition came out firing, only to be pegged back by brave and accurate spin bowling.

The first occasion was the match against SGVP Academy. Here the home side’s formidable opening pair raised sixty runs in the first seven overs, only to be brought to heel by a spin trio of Pranav Pandy, Samra and Avant Smith, who between them bowled six overs for 27 runs and took four wickets.  Against Gujarat Lions, a similar fusillade iof shot-making (78 for one in the eleventh over) brought the spinners into the mix, only for Seth, Avant Smith, Pandey and Samra to bowl 31 overs for 92 runs and four wickets. 

This is not to disparage the fast bowlers. Miles Patience was always penetrative with the new ball and Kieron Downer went past the outside edge time and again, to secure at least one observer’s vote for the unluckiest bowler on the tour. Kiritharan and Chandler were always in the game either with bat or ball, and Simonds Gooding returned excellent figures in the two matches against the Vengsarkar Academy (1 for 15 and 2 for 19) before injury restricted his appearances.

A note on the fielding. On the whole the wickets were flat but the outfields a challenge. In hot conditions against hard-hitting opposition batsmen, Hampton’s fielders generally made good on their duty to support the bowlers with error-free work in the field.  Early in the tour they were challenged to take wickets of their own with sharp run-outs and smart catches, and this challenge remains.

One of the features of this tour was the quality of the opposition in the field. At least one match was won (or lost, depending on your perspective) because of brilliant Indian fielding. The neutral observer was left with the impression that excellence in the field may no longer be quite enough.

A final note on what might be described as the spirit of the tour. If their task on this trip was to represent the best values of Hampton School and its cricket, the tour was an unqualified success.  The boys were invariably polite, friendly, cheerful, whole-hearted and fair-minded team-mates and opponents.  The grace with which they accepted setbacks and the unaffected pleasure they took in each others’ successes combined with the immense hospitality of our Indian hosts to deliver a tour whose value will resonate through the summer to come and no doubt through many summers thereafter. It was good to be there.

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