Cricket: Captain laid low as temperatures rise

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The Independent Online
IT IS always a little incongruous to see England cricket teams embarking on tours to India laden down with supermarket tuck- boxes and crates of sponsored beer, but minus a doctor. He would certainly not have spent too much time sipping dry Martinis by the pool on this trip, and Graham Gooch yesterday became the latest victim of the sub-continent's propensity for playing havoc with western constitutions.

Four days before his 100th Test, Gooch found himself confined to bed with a temperature also hovering around the century mark, but although the England captain has the same kind of flu-type virus that incapacited Devon Malcolm in Cuttack over the weekend, there is no serious thought that he might not be fit for the match on Friday.

While the east meets west syndrome also works the other way (the entire Sri Lankan team once keeled over after dining out on fish and chips in Jesmond) more than half the touring party has now been debilitated to some degree or other, and Paul Taylor and John Emburey are still weak from fitness training that involves regular sprints to the bathroom.

In their case, the timing left a little to be desired in that the plumbing facilities on the overnight sleeper from Bhubaneshwar on Monday night were not exactly low-level / en suite / tasteful avocado and, quite apart from grappling with the difficulties of sharing a rock-hard bunk with several thousand mosquitos, a non-paying passenger with four legs, whiskers, and a long tail ensured that sleep was kept to a minimum.

Keith Fletcher, the team manager, was not desperately happy about the journey and, shortly after groping his way into the team hotel at daybreak, announced that being on a train from eight at night until five in the morning was not his idea of ideal preparation for a Test match. 'I'm bloody knackered and I'm sure the players are too,' he said.

By way of recompense (although partly, one suspects, because the workaholic Gooch was safely out of the way in bed) the players were awarded yesterday off. However, it has now reached the point where even Bob Bennett, the tour manager, who has remained stoically genial and diplomatically even-handed through all the logistical problems that this trip has thrown up, has decided to put his foot down.

After the Test match here in Calcutta, the team is due to travel south to Vishakhapatnam for a three-day match, but Bennett is now intent on tracking down members of the Indian Cricket Board over the next day or two to find out whether this latest trip is to be by plane, train, or rickshaw.

If the answer is anything other than plane (and Bennett is not taking the apparent ending of the domestic airline strike as a guarantee that the tourists will get themselves airborne this time) then he intends to tell his hosts that they can draw a line through Vishakhapatnam on the tour itinerary. They either fly, or it is straight to Madras to prepare for the second Test.

Meantime, Phillip DeFreitas has definitely been ruled out of Friday's Test with a groin injury, although this is not quite as big a blow as it might have been, given the likelihood of the Eden Gardens pitch being more receptive to spin than seam.

It is an unknown strip on a re- laid square, and Fletcher is not entirely convinced about the groundsman's assurance that the wide cracks on the surface will have 'sealed up' by the time the game starts. 'Everyone I have talked to says it will turn from the word go,' Fletcher said, and although England will not name their XI until just before the toss, it is short odds on their playing two of their three specialist spinners.

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