INDIA, that seductive land of contrasts and extremes, has always had a reputation for helping people find themselves. Its lush assault on the senses has had a powerful and often lasting influence on people from Rudyard Kipling to the Beatles, and countless others seeking the path to enlightenment. But for Glen Chapple, Lancashire's 21-year-old fast bowler, the effect was blindingly obvious. He discovered he was good enough; a small revelation perhaps, but one that has, in the space of three months, thrust him from his uneasy perch as a county hopeful to the brink of Test selection.
For all its spiritual benevolence, India has rarely been kind to England's cricketers, particularly those reliant upon swing and seam for an honest day's toil. The baked threadbare pitches have, over the years, broken the backs and hearts of many a paceman, yet on England A's winter tour here, a slim, freckled tyro was intent on breaking the rules.
Instead of letting the spinners get on with it once the shine had been sand-papered from the ball, Chapple was a model of industry, a touring captain's dream, a thoughtful bowler who mixed long spells of unflagging accuracy, with shorter incisive ones when the need to strike became more urgent. He bowled like an old hand, driven on by the enthusiasm of a lad given his first taste of long trousers.
"Glen had an exceptional tour," said Phil Neale, England A's coach and now coach at Warwickshire. "He's so levelheaded and has such a good solid action that you don't have to worry about him. Considering we lost the toss in all three Tests, his 19 wickets at only 15.5 was a great achievement. It was his, and Dominic Cork's, use of the new ball that meant India never posted a big first innings total to bat us out of the game."
Although Chapple has yet to take 100 first-class wickets, he has been involved with Lancashire at various levels since the age of 12, and has been on four England youth tours; one of them to India, which may explain his rational approach last winter.
"I've known Glen a long time," David Lloyd, the Lancashire coach, said last week. "He can sometimes get carried away. He desperately wanted to play against Yorkshire last week, despite picking up a niggle at Edgbaston. It's easy to forget that he's only had one full season behind him, and he still needs looking after."
Ironically, Chapple might have been turning out for Yorkshire, having been born in Skipton in January, 1974, and raised in Earby, a small Dales town resolutely affiliated to the House of York, but which, according to county boundaries and postcode, is firmly in Lancashire.
It is an irony not lost on Chapple, but he is quick to assure that there is no question of his birthright diluting his loyalty to the red rose. "When I was really young I wanted to play for Yorkshire," Chapple said last week. "But ever since the age of 12, it has been Lancashire all the way. I've Jim Kenyon to thank for that. He's been a Lancashire schools coach for a long time and a major influence on me."
It's an assertion Chapple's father Mike, a long-standing professional with Nelson and Earby, would agree with, particularly in light of all the publicity about the merits of the Australian Cricket Academy. "They don't miss anybody in Lancashire," said Chapple senior. "Glen never played cricket in school, but thanks to winter coaching classes and the various representative teams run by Lancashire Schools Cricket Association, my lad got a superb grounding in the game." This was augmented by Chapple junior's early recruitment - at 14 - into the Earby first team and the earthy rivalries of the Ribblesdale League.
Already there has been talk of his becoming the new Brian Statham, whose 252 Test wickets for England included the amazing statistic that 40 per cent of them were bowled. But whereas Statham looked to bowl a tight off- stump line and nip the ball back into the right-hander, Chapple - like Statham's new-ball partner Fred Trueman - tries to swing the ball away towards the slips by bowling a full length.
It was a tactic that worked well for Chapple last season, particularly as it was allied with a sharp bouncer and enough pace to drive players on to the back foot, and his 52 wickets in 14 matches speak of a talent on the rise. "He had a lot of responsibility last season," said Lloyd. "Phil DeFreitas's departure has allowed him to come through and he has really knuckled down. You know, the funny thing was that when he was younger he never used to get people in his own age group out. Now he does. He can bat too and he should really be setting his sights on becoming an all-rounder by pushing himself forward to do night-watchman."
Apart from India, Chapple points to last season's encounter against Glamorgan on a slow shirt front at Colwyn Bay as a pivotal moment in his development. "It was late June and though I'd played in most of the matches, I felt I still hadn't really established myself in the side. It was a humid day so the ball swung about and I ended up getting five wickets, which helped us win the game. It set me up, confidence-wise, for the rest of the season."
Away from cricket, his interests revolve around the golf course (he has a handicap of six) and the guitar-driven music of Nirvana, U2 and the Cranberries. On tour he was the object rather than the instigator of the sundry ribbings that occur in sweaty male enclaves and his protracted experiments with lemon juice on hair kept his team-mates amused for weeks.
With television crews busy circling at Headingley last Thursday, all hoping to glimpse Michael Atherton and Ray Illingworth in discussion before today's England captaincy announcement, Glen Chapple was busy changing his skipper's flat tyre. If the ball swings this summer, this is one young bowler who could easily deflate the West Indies strokeplayers. But as he rightly points out at the mention of an England cap: "All I've achieved so far is a goodish season with Lancashire and three good matches in India. My only aim at present is to get into form for Lancashire." With the England captain in the same side, it is as sensible a place to start as any.