Cork keeps hopes afloat

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MARK RAMPRAKASH, England A's key batsman in India, is out of the second match of the tour, against a Board President's XI which starts today, because of tonsilitis. Ramprakash, feeling shivery and "a bit ropey", spent yesterday's rest day in Madra s sleeping in his hotel room after a doctor gave him antibiotics.

The four-day game at the Test Stadium is the A team's final fixture before the first unofficial Test against India A, starting next Saturday. Ramprakash looks certain to play in that.

The Middlesex man's tonsils aside, it has been a case of so far, so good for England A. Forget about Monday's one-day one-run loss to the Cricket Club of India, where some of the umpiring left more than a little to be desired, because their first exposure to Indian conditions has been encouraging.

Ian Salisbury's first-innings performance in the 96-run win over an Indian Youth XI, when he took six for 48, prompted nods of approval from Bombay journalists. They, of course, had seen the Sussex man before, in the senior side's Third Test in 1993 whenhe was part of Graham Gooch's stumbling team.

Salisbury has seven Test caps, but most found him without a soulmate at the other end. Spinners like to hunt in pairs, and Salisbury's early form here suggests his talent deserves another outing, preferably with some assistance. The A team manager, Phil Neale, thinks he still has plenty to offer: "Ian's on his way back. He's improving all the time and reads the game well."

The eradication of the four-ball, which has blighted each over, is Salisbury's new-year resolution and, accordingly, accuracy and consistency are now his bywords. He is pleased to find his rhythm early in the tour while acknowledging that the benchmark called Warne has given him plenty to ponder. "I enjoy watching him bowl. I like his approach, his attitude and I'd like to implement some of the things he does - going for two an over, for a start!"

In Bombay, another gutsy show came from the Derbyshire all-rounder Dominic Cork. His 69 in just shy of three hours in the first innings steered England out of the mire at 125 for five, and showed his sharp cricketing brain. Quick running between the wickets, taking advantage of the deep-lying Indian field, allowed him consistently to steal singles.

His partner during the sixth-wicket stand of 92 was the left-hander Paul Weeks, who complemented the situation as the bowlers' line was continually disrupted.

On the final afternoon with the home side well set at 136 for three, chasing 289 to win, Cork bowled unchanged throughout the whole session, producing a spell of three for 5 in six overs to turn the match England's way.

He, too, showed his competitiveness in a burst of verbal jousting with the middle-order batsmen Sharath. Form like this will see Cork treading these same boards in the World Cup in a year from now.

Cork and Salisbury have been quickest out of the traps, but all the players know that, even from the bottom of the world, Uncle Ray is watching closely.

ENGLAND A (v Board President's XI, from): N V Knight, M P Vaughan, J E R Gallian, D L Hemp, A P Wells (capt), P N Weekes, D G Cork, K J Piper, I D K Salisbury, R L Johnson, M C Ilott, M M Patel.