England had to beat New Zealand to qualify for the quarterfinals of the ICC Under-19 World Cup, and at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Tuesday (February 18), they found a hero in Matthew Fisher.
After opting to bat, England were ably guided by Ryan Higgins, who made 83 and added valuable partnerships with Harry Finch, Will Rhodes and Joe Clarke to take his side to 229 for 8 in 50 overs.
Fisher then picked up three wickets in his first six overs to knock the stuffing out of New Zealand’s chase, laying the platform for a 115-run victory as New Zealand were bowled out for 114 in 36.1 overs.
Off the fourth ball of the innings, Fisher got one to nip back and trap Tim Seifert on the back leg. In his next over, Ken McClure chopped one on to the stumps, and then Rob O’Donnell was caught behind, edging an away going delivery. By the time Fisher had finished his first spell of six overs, his figures read 3 for 18 and New Zealand were clearly on the back foot.
England had failed to strike early in their one-wicket loss against Sri Lanka while defending 230. Speaking about the difference between the two games, Fisher said, “There was a bit of wind today. It was going across the batsman, which helped my away swingers and assisted other bowlers too. Plus, today we brought our lengths back a bit.”
What has stood about Fisher is that whenever he has got a wicket at the top of the order, he has followed it up with another. Against the United Arab Emirates, he bowled Chirag Suri and Shorye Chopra in his first spell, and today he was rewarded with three wickets.
“It is always hard for a new batsman to come in and score against swing. So, if you make him play it is going to be tough,” said Fisher. “Sometimes in cricket you don’t get a wicket for a while, so I think it is important to keep it in the right area when a new guy comes and make it work for you.”
After New Zealand lost their first three wickets, the spinners slowed down the pace of the game and then wickets kept falling at regular intervals.
Throwing light on the team’s strategy, Lloyd Tennant, England’s pace bowling coach, said, “We had given a little bit of width in the last game against Sri Lanka. Today, we bowled slightly straighter and getting three wickets up front was massive. That allowed the spinners to control the game and keep the pressure till the pacers came back for the Power Play overs.
“We got the bowlers to hit the pitch hard. These pitches here are a bit weary and it goes a little bit up and down. Though we got swing today, we tried to magnify the uneven bounce.”
Till Fisher delivered the punch, the game had hung in balance, with the New Zealand bowlers having cut down the flow of runs on the field. Though Higgins held on to his wicket, England could not push their run-rate till the 40th over, and ended up playing as many as 189 dot balls.
Going into the knockouts, England will have to work on the rotation of strike, something Fisher was aware of. “If we start well, we can improve on our scores and touch the 300-run mark,” he said. “It will be important against tough opponents in the quarterfinal.”
Fisher, who hails from York, has got an academy contract with Yorkshire County Cricket Club, and aspires to pick up a professional contract in the near future.
He has been a fast bowler from childhood, and looks up to James Anderson. “Both our roles are pretty much the same in our sides,” pointed out Fisher. “We both swing the ball and I want to pick up on the way he uses the wrist position and gets it to swing both ways.”
Tennant was appreciative of Fisher’s talent. “He is just 16 years old. Once he gets into rhythm, he grows physically and you can see that,” he said. “It was a big game shown on the television, and with the first wicket, he grew in confidence and kept attacking the top of offstump.”
Tennant called Fisher a “very mature lad for his age” – something the bowler will be aware is one of the secrets to success.