Worcestershire and Lions wicketkeeper-batsman Joe Clarke had a simple message for the England Under-19s ahead of their World Cup campaign in Bangladesh.
“Just believe that you can do it,” said Clarke, who was a member of the England squad who enjoyed a surprising and memorable run to the semi-finals of the last Under-19s World Cup in Dubai two years ago.
“It’s an amazing thing to go through as a young group. Enjoy it, make the most of it, and back yourselves.”
Clarke’s inclusion in the Lions squad last September, at the age of 19 and little more than a year after his last Under-19s appearance in August 2014, offers hard evidence to the current crop of how quickly they can progress through the England cricketing pathway.
But for the moment the Shropshire-born star says they should concentrate on what lies ahead in the next couple of weeks.
After impressive warm-up wins against South Africa in Dubai last week and Namibia in Chittagong yesterday, the England youngsters will complete their preparations for the tournament against hosts Bangladesh tomorrow.
“It’s exciting times for them,” added Clarke, who dashed across from Lions training with Tom Curran and the coaching staff to watch the victory against South Africa – at the same Dubai Stadium where his Under-19s enjoyed such good times two years ago.
“I’ve got great memories of the 2014 World Cup. I’d only come into the set-up quite late, after playing against the Under-19s in a trial game in the summer of 2013. But then I got in the World Cup squad and an injury to Ben Duckett in a warm-up game gave me a chance as wicketkeeper.
“I ended up keeping in all the games and batting at seven, with Ben coming back as a specialist batsman higher up. We probably had the toughest group with Sri Lanka and New Zealand as well as us, and only two teams getting through to the quarter-finals.
“We came close to Sri Lanka in our first game, lost by one wicket I think in the last over, then beat New Zealand comfortably so we were in the quarter-finals against India.
“Not many people gave us a chance but Matt Fisher bowled an unbelievable spell to put us in a position where we could win the game.
“I batted towards the end of the run-chase and didn’t quite get us home which was a bit gutting – I thought I’d lost it for us at one stage. But then we all ran on to the pitch when we beat them. I still don’t think I’ve had more adrenaline on a cricket field than that. It was incredible.”
England couldn’t quite repeat the feat against Pakistan in the semi-finals, losing by three wickets with five balls to spare, but bounced back to beat Australia in the third-place play-off, courtesy of a century from Duckett.
“I think we only started to believe too late that we could win it – probably after we beat India in the quarter-final,” Clarke reflected. “We probably should have beaten Pakistan in that semi-final too.
“But I’ve heard good things about this group. There are more lads who have played first-class cricket and done well in it than there were in our squad. So they should believe they can go on and win it which would be a great thing for English cricket.”
Clarke still smiles when he recalls those 2014 World Cup memories.
“We still have our own What’sApp group now,” he added. “Whenever we play against each other in the summer it brings back memories.
“I’d say the majority of the squad I can say I’ll be friends with them for the rest of my cricketing career or even further down the line. All of us were a bit lost when we went back from the World Cup, the weeks following we just wanted to be back with each other.
“I was still doing A-levels which was tough. I had conversations about this the other night with Sam Curran when we went for dinner, because he’s in the same boat, having to keep up with his schoolwork during the tournament.
“I remember when I went back to school after the World Cup I was nowhere for a month, and had several chats with my head of year saying I had to buckle down and start doing some work. But it was worth it.”
Now Clarke, who remained eligible for Under-19s cricket the following summer against South Africa alongside three members of the current squad – Saqib Mahmood, Aneurin Donald and captain Brad Taylor – is relishing the experience of a Lions tour, having smacked 25 from 13 balls in Friday’s 50-over win against Pakistan A.
“It’s not that far away, that’s what I’d say,” he concluded. “I was playing Under-19s cricket last year. So if they can go back to their counties this summer after a successful World Cup, then you never know what can happen.”