Somerset youngsters impress in the desert

Logo2Somerset Academy youngsters Sam Underdown and George Bartlett played a key role in England Under 17s’ recent tour of the UAE.

Both players appeared for their country in a three-match one-day series against their Pakistani counterparts and then shared a vital century partnership together in a three-day match against the same opposition.

Like the rest of the squad, both youngsters took a few days to acclimatise to the heat, but England Development Programme head coach Iain Brunnschweiler was impressed by the way they went about their training, despite the unfamiliar conditions.

Sixteen-year-old Bartlett, who hails from East Coker was among the runs from the beginning of the tour in a warm-up game against a strong United Arab Emirates XI made up of Under 19s and those who missed out on the World Cup squad in Dubai. He eventually retired on 36 to give other batsmen some time at the crease. England comfortably won that game, chasing down a target of 168 for the loss of only one wicket with 13 overs to spare.

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After the game Bartlett, who attends Millfield School and plays club cricket for Glastonbury talked about the squad’s first few days in Dubai:

“It’s been great,” he said. “It was tough acclimatising to the heat when we were training but we have now managed to get a used to the conditions. We’ve had a great training programme aided by some fantastic facilities which has put me in good stead.”

Seventeen-year-old Underdown, who plays club cricket for Taunton Deane, agreed: “The heat was the first challenge to overcome along with fielding under the blue sky but felt I have acclimatised well. The nature of the pitches out here has also posed a challenge, so I have worked on trusting my movements so that I move later but dynamically and positively.”

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England bounce back from early defeats in one-day series

Unfortunately the U17′s went down by 7 wickets in their opening match of the ODI series against their Pakistan counterparts. England made 176 all out with the right-handed Bartlett making 26, but Pakistan reached their target with the loss of just three wickets.

For Brunnschweiler this was a valuable learning experience, despite the defeat “Obviously the guys are very disappointed to lose the game,” he said. “We prepared well, but for many of these lads it is their first trip away at this level, and today will have been an eye-opener in terms of the standard of the opposition.

“The Pakistani spinners bowled extremely well, and although we showed some really good intent, we ultimately lost wickets at vital times, and were short of a competitive total.

“There were some good individual contributions, and also we had periods when we came together well as a unit. Overall we were outplayed in all departments, though.

“We have come here specifically to sample tough opposition, and tough conditions. It is the learnings that the players take from these experiences which will be the most important.”

England suffered another defeat in the second game of the series, but by a much narrower margin as Pakistan squeezed home to record a two-wicket win with seven balls to spare. This time Barlett was bowled for 14 as England set their opponents a target of 211 to win.

Underdown who attends Kings’ College in Taunton came into the side to make his England U17 debut in the third ODI of the series, where he played a key part in helping the side to victory by 70 runs.

Batting first England lost their first wicket in the fourth over with 7 runs on the board. At this stage Underdown walked to the wicket and over the course of the next nine overs he proceeded to score 20 off the 33 balls that he faced before falling with the score on 34 in the 13th over.

England went on to post 225 for 9 from their 50 overs before bowling out Pakistan for 155 in 44.5 overs.

“Today’s victory represents the hard work that all of the players have put in since arriving out here,” said Brunnschweiler after the game.

“They have continued to adapt to the conditions and become more and more consistent in their delivery of their skills.

“It’s a shame that today was not the one-day series decider after our narrow loss on Thursday, but we have continued to improve throughout the trip which is really encouraging.”

Somerset partnership highlight of final game

With Bartlett missing out on selection for the third ODI, the two Somerset youngsters appeared together for the first time on the tour in the closing three-day match. The two gave a glimpse of what Somerset fans might have to look forward to in future years as they combined on the second day to bring England back into contention after they had struggled initially to reach 21-2.

Pakistan posted 337 for 8 declared on day one, with Bartlett taking 2 for 19 off six overs of his off spin. That left a tricky half hour’s batting to negotiate for Underdown and fellow opener Max Holden. With Holden falling in the first over, Underdown and night watchman Ben Twohig had to survive a hostile, testing period to see England to stumps without any further loss by which time the score had moved onto 11-1.

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Twohig perished early on day two, leaving England in trouble at two wickets down in the 12th over. That brought Bartlett to the crease to join Underdown and by lunch the county teammates had put on a superb partnership of 101 in 30 overs together.

They extended that stand by a further 11 runs after the break, before Bartlett was dismissed for 46 (from 90 balls) with the score on 133. Underdown remained at the wicket and saw the total onto 163 when he was eventually out for a fine 81 off 160 balls with 8 fours and 2 sixes.

After such an excellent stand by the Somerset pair, it was disappointing that England then lost their remaining five wickets for the addition of 17 runs before they were all out for 256.

Batting for a second time Pakistan ended the day on 55 for 1 a lead of 136 runs, before declaring on 217-6 on day three. England eventually batted out for a draw, reaching 156-4 by the close.

Talking about his first-innings 81 at stumps on day two, Underdown said: “It was very challenging batting at the start and I had to really work hard and battle through it. I was hit on the body a few times and got hit on the head. Their bowlers were feisty and in your face but George and I battled through it and took our singles well. When their bowlers started to stray we were good enough to put them away.”

Regarding his partnership with Bartlett, Underdown said: “I have played a lot with George. In fact probably more than with anyone else and we ran well between the wickets and put a lot of pressure on them in the field.”

Steve Snell, the Academy Director at Somerset said: “It’s a credit to both of them that they have done so well. They were both very diligent in their practice before they went away in all different areas to make sure that they were fully prepared. Sam had to wait his chance which he was aware of before he went away but he has certainly grasped his opportunity when it has been given. It’s brilliant for Sam and his family and everyone who has worked closely with him and he has represented himself and Somerset so well.

“George is someone who we are very excited about at Somerset. He hits the ball in a slightly different way to your average text book player but to me that is an added value. He has already made a couple of significant contributions on the trip already which is very pleasing for him.”

Snell added: “He has worked extremely hard to get himself into the position where he is and it’s great news that he is contributing to some top performances.”

Following the match Brunnschweiler praised the first innings batting of the Somerset duo: “Some excellent batting from Sam Underdown and Saif Zaib, along with a good contribution from George Bartlett, meant that we were in a good position to get close to their first innings total. However, the accuracy of the Pakistani spinners meant that once they got the breakthrough they rattled through our lower order, conceding a lead of 81.”

“Our performance in the field was much better in the second innings, and   despite some very attacking batting we managed to not let them score as quickly as they would have wanted,” said Brunnschweiler.

“However, chasing 300 to win was always an unlikely target, so we had to focus on maintaining our positive intent whilst looking to occupy the crease.

“This has been a really stern test for all of the players, and we have ended up with a very hard-fought draw which the boys can be proud of,” he added.

“Overall this has been a brilliant trip for the squad with very tough opposition in sub-continental conditions. The progress and learning the whole squad have undertaken underlines what an important experience it is for these high potential players at this age.”

Success for other King’s College cricketers in the off-season

As well as Sam Underdown, a number of other King’s College cricketers have been very active over the last few weeks, and in particular over the half term break.

Kazi Szymanski and Jack Gibbs have just returned from the annual Devon cricket tour to South Africa. They played a number of games around the Kruger National Park area and then travelled to Cape Town for the final leg of the tour.

King’s Director of Cricket Phil Lewis said: “Jack has worked hard on his game over the winter with us and it was great to see these efforts result in him making a brilliant half century, as well as some other excellent contributions with the bat. Kazi also had some success, scoring plenty of runs and opening the bowling with pace and accuracy throughout the tour.”

Half term also saw the return of King’s two cricket exchange students to St Stithian’s in Johannesburg. Sam Wyatt and Tom Clark stayed at this prestigious cricketing school for six weeks and played games for both the school and club sides. Highlights included an excellent century from Sam and Tom’s first five-wicket haul.

Eddie Byrom and Charles Clist went on a cricket programme to India, set up by Phil Lewis and the Dilip Vengsarkar Academy. This was a new scheme to give some of the school’s players a totally different learning environment to develop their cricket. Not only were they part of a prestigious cricket academy, where they got to interact with top Indian coaches and players, but they also got to play some matches. Both performed well, with Charles scoring runs consistently and Eddie getting a brilliant hundred in his first game.

Phil Lewis commented on the achievements: “It is fantastic to see the progress and accomplishments of our King’s cricketers over the last few weeks. We have tried to create a culture and a foundation here at King’s to give our players the best possible chance of progressing in this game. These experiences abroad will give them a huge amount to learn from and they will gain a great sense of satisfaction and confidence from their achievements in tough and very challenging conditions.”

The 1st XI squad begin their season with a training tour to La Manga in Spain, followed by a short tour to Merchant Taylors School, Whitgift School and Eton College in mid-April.