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A tale of two Test cricket nations

The Press were at Hove for the first NatWest under-19 international one-day cricket match between England and Zimbabwe; so were the England selectors. The attention was not directed at the tourists, but at Ben Hollioake, the latest ray of hope in the battle for the Ashes.

His elevation to the England squad for the Trent Bridge Test - which began yesterday - marks a change of attitude towards younger players by the cricket hierarchy. It is a vindication of the England and Wales Cricket Board's Development of Excellence Programme. So me doubts were, however, expressed about the wisdom of matching the Zimbabwean boys with the English under-19s.

The programme began in a more structured fashion in 1990, sponsored by the bank and directed by former England manager Micky Stewart. Talented youngsters are coached at Lilleshall National Sports Centre before representing their country. When they reach the under-19s, most have county contracts. At least 50 such players have reached international status.

Ben Hollioake is among them. He had the advantage of playing cricket at Millfield, the Somerset independent school, before signing for Surrey and competing against the New Zealand and Pakistan under-19s last year. He made his full England debut against Australia at Lord's in May, scoring a brisk 50.

Middlesex's Owais Shah, who has just finished his A-levels, is another successful product of the excellence programme.

Only four of the 18 players in the England under-19 squad are in some form of education, compared with two-thirds of their opponents.

Zimbabwe only gained Test status in 1992, but last winter its team forced England to a draw. Peter Whalley, tour manager and deputy head of St John's College, Harare, said their development programme began 12 years ago.

Promising youngsters are awarded Zimbabwe Cricket Union scholarships to schools such as Prince Edward's in Harare, Graeme Hick's old school. One black player has reached the Test team and there are three hopefuls in the under-19s: Mluleki Nkala took Zimbabwe's only wicket in the England game.

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