An Indian tonic for hopefuls

Mark Pougatch reflects on a happy tour for England's emerging cricketers
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The Independent Online
SOON after England A touched down in the crush and heat and smog of Bombay, John Barclay set out the aims of the tour he was managing: "Winning is not the be all and end all. Victories would be nice, but what's more important is that the players learn and develop and return as better cricketers." All his wishes were granted - and more.

The selectors' first victory was in choosing their squad. No longer was a winter away a reward for the good county pro on the back of a profitable season, nor was it a consolation prize for those who had just missed out on the senior tour. This A team was full of bright, young, enthusiastic cricketers ready to tour with an open mind, alert to the opportunities available should they perform. They responded with three unofficial Test victories out of three and by taking the one-day series 2-1.

That they have combined winning with learning is a testament to that attitude. The squad prepared well in advance in Spain and on an artificial turning wicket at Lilleshall, and, most importantly, drew on the horrific experience that the senior England side had when they toured India in 1993.

John Emburey, who joined the A team as coach in time for the First "Test" in Bangalore, had his own bad memories of that visit: "Sidhu padded away my best balls then hit me for six. I couldn't see how I was going to get a wicket." He was able to tell the present crop of England hopefuls to use their pads as a primary defence against the spinners, a tactic Jason Gallian was quick to adopt. Mark Ramprakash's positive batting in that First Test then showed his team-mates another way out of the maze and soon the threat of the spinners' stranglehold was evaporating. By the end of the tour England's aggressive cricketmade India look a poor side.

Realisation that the ever- worsening news from Australia increased the likelihood that graduation day would come sooner rather than later for many of the players was hardly a hindrance.

"The team spirit on this trip has been fantastic and inspirational. I'm proud to be part of the side," Nick Knight said after winning the man of the match award in the deciding one-day international. Thanks to a rota system all the players knew they would get a chance and there was a genuine pleasure in the achievements of others.

The players were not lacking either in harnessing their technical skill with mental strength. Resilience and belief are qualities needed above and beyond the ability to play shots and take wickets. This side had both in abundance. The result was that the Indians never enjoyed successive days of domination in the Tests.

Inevitably, some players will be disappointed. After a good start, Ian Salisbury found it difficult to exert control and the feeling persists he is a luxury England cannot afford. Dominic Cork's batting remains the cause of his exclusion from the international all-rounders' club and Michael Vaughan had a torrid time.

For others, there is real hope of benefiting from Michael Atherton's youth policy. The selection of Ramprakash is surely a foregone conclusion. His performance when called from the tour to play in the Fifth Test in Perth should guarantee him yet more meetings with the West Indies and on his return to India, after the Ashes series was over, he looked in a different class.

The Lancashire bowler Glen Chapple has been a revelation. A sense of purpose and skilful use of both the new and the old ball brought him 19 Test wickets at about 16 apiece but his main weapon was accuracy. All but one of his victims were caught behind the wicket, bowled or leg before and at Chandigarh the wicket was pock-marked by a series of his deliveries, all pitched at the perfect length. Not only were they clustered like pock-marks around the treble-20 on a dart board, but the imprint of the seam was clearly discernible in the earth.

Richard Stemp's control, rhythm and variety may well propel him to the Test team, while Gallian's performance means he can look forward to meeting Atherton at Old Trafford when Lancashire reconvene. After his marathon innings at Madras, he went on to make half-centuries in the first two Tests and looked composed throughout.

While Keith Fletcher returned from Australia amid recriminations and calls for his head, his England A counterpart, Phil Neale, was happy to encapsulate a happy tour: "The players were hungry for success and desperate to develop their careers. If we're honest, it's probably been beyond our wildest dreams."

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