Clouds spread over Indian summer

Stephen Brenkley asks why travel often fails to bring out the best in tourists
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Perhaps the Indians' cricket manager was being prescient, or perhaps he merely drew his conclusions from the past. "It's never easy for touring teams," Sandeep Patil said. "You might have the advantage of being together as a close unit but that can work against you, too, and everything else favours the home team." Days later his side had lost not only the Texaco Trophy series to England but one of their leading batsmen to retirement.

If the 1996 tour is hardly in ruins, it is some distance from being the epitome of rosy contentment. India's oddly balanced squad, with two world- class batsmen, two world-class bowlers and six uncapped players, have yet to discover any sustained form. They must now attempt to do so without Navjot Sidhu, their solid, dependable opening batsman who has departed after being left out for the final limited-overs match.

It will take resilience as well as flair to get out of this and the odds of 50-50 which Patil placed on both the one-day and Test series, while proving hopelessly optimistic in the first case, have undoubtedly shifted alarmingly away from his charges in the other. He was, though, right on the button about tours in general. 'Twas ever thus, maybe, but there is hardly a cricketing journey abroad these days without rumblings of discontent at best and internecine strife at worst.

The recent list is long: Australia in Pakistan in 1988, Pakistan in Australia in 1990, Sri Lanka in New Zealand in 1991, New Zealand in South Africa in 1995, West Indies in England in 1995, England just about everywhere at one time or other. These trips have variously embraced bitter criticism of umpires and pitches leading to threatened cancellation, and players being sent home for disciplinary breaches or leaving themselves. Touring, indeed, is so fraught that it is perhaps small wonder India have not done much of it lately.

Sidhu, who appears to have terminated his international career at the age of 32, follows in the homeward footsteps of such as Abdul Qadir, the Pakistani leg-spinner who left Australia in 1990 pleading a damaged finger, "but at least as much on temperamental grounds," according to Wisden. Only last year, Winston Benjamin was sacked from the West Indian tour party on disciplinary and fitness grounds while other squad members were later fined. And three New Zealanders in South Africa - Matthew Hart, Dion Nash and Stephen Fleming - would doubtless have been expelled had it been discovered at the time they were smoking pot. Their behaviour came to light later and they were duly suspended.

There might just have been another reason for Patil's analysis of tours (though it did not explain his bullish odds for this one in particular) - that India have proved themselves startlingly inept as travellers. In the past 15 years they have gone two periods of more than 20 away Tests without a win. England might lose rubbers but they win the odd contest to raise spirits.

After beating Australia on their way to a drawn series there in early 1981, India did not win abroad again until 1986. This span included tours of New Zealand, England, Australia, Pakistan, West Indies and Sri Lanka. They then went seven more years, eight tours and 26 Tests before their next victory - in Sri Lanka in 1993 when they won the middle game of a three-Test series. Since then they have left the sub-continent only for one-day tournaments and a one-off drawn Test in New Zealand.

Allied to England's newly discovered relish for the game, India's abysmal touring record, their present lack of form and temporary disunity should make the home side clear favourites to take the series.

It would be wise, though, for us to remember that the Indians broke their woeful, winless away trot 10 years ago by beating England 2-0.

Five terrible tours

1876-77 England (in Australia and New Zealand): Wicketkeeper Edward Pooley was incarcerated in New Zealand after a fight over a betting scam while the side went to Australia to play the first ever Test.

1912 Australia (in England): Six leading Australians stay at home because of a row over the tour manager. A disastrous tour ruined by results and perpetual rain.

1988-89 Australia (in Pakistan): Protests about pitches and umpiring - threaten to abandon tour.

1994-95 New Zealand (in South Africa): Team in disarray on tour marked by pot smoking and assorted other misbehaviour.

1994-95 Pakistan (in South Africa and Zimbabwe): Tourists' form gradually slumps amid allegations of throwing matches for bookmakers back home.