When England Under-19s begin their World Cup campaign against Fiji today, they will be aiming to follow in the footsteps of the triumphant Class of ’98.
Owais Shah’s young side opened the tournament in South Africa with a four-wicket win over New Zealand in what proved to be a dress rehearsal for the final.
Graham Napier, who went on to become a key player for Essex, told ecb.co.uk that England went into the competition in confident mood.
“It’s a very long time ago!” he said.
“That World Cup that squad that played was deep in great cricketers. The star players were Owais Shah and Stephen Peters – they were the big names. The whole squad, pretty much everyone had played professional or first-class cricket, so we had a very strong side.
“We toured South Africa before the World Cup and the fact that we were all together for such a long period I think helped that we were able to gel at the right time.”
England followed up their win over the Black Caps with a three-wicket success against Namibia but a shock defeat by Bangladesh left their hopes in the balance.
An 18-run victory over Pakistan got England back on track and there was no stopping Shah’s side as they beat India and Australia to book a Wanderers date with New Zealand.
Paul Franks was the hero against Australia, taking two wickets before scoring 41 off 34 balls at number three.
“We weren’t the favourites going into the tournament, Australia were, and it was a fantastic innings by Paul Franks, who we put in as a pinch-hitter,” Napier added.
“We’d done our homework on the net run-rate, we had to win that game in a certain amount of time to push Australia completely out of the tournament and by doing that we leapfrogged them into the final so that much in particular was great to beat the tournament favourites.
“If you look further back we lost to Bangaldesh in a group match, which was embarrassing – how did we lose to Bangladesh? From that moment every game was a must-win game and that’s what we did.”
In the final, Napier took 2-39 and Giles Haywood 3-18 as New Zealand made 241, a total which England made short work of on the back of Peters’ 107.
“We didn’t get off to a particularly good start but myself and Giles Haywood managed to hold them back and we picked up wickets which gave us the momentum later in the game,” Napier said.
“I think Stephen Peters got runs and I think Graeme Swann got runs as well that day.
“It was a really well-balanced team.”
Of the England team that won the 1998 final, Rob Key, Franks, Shah, Swann and Chris Schofield all went on to play at senior international level.
The current crop will be hoping this year’s tournament offers them the same kind of springboard.