Cricket: Ealham shows Hick the way

THIRD TEST: Injured Hussain forced to sidelines while England's batsmen grind out another day in the middle at Trent Bridge
India 521 England 550-7

The bold claims made by England's captain, Mike Atherton, that his team could still win this third Test match, were shown to be nothing more than wishful thinking after another slow day's play here. However, dull days can still provide interesting sub-plots, and the differing fortunes of the newcomer Mark Ealham, who scored 51, and the experienced Graeme Hick, who again failed with a leaden-footed 20, were revealing.

Having bowled on the unforgiving surface, Ealham knew there were no excuses not to score runs on it. Pushing his first ball in Test cricket firmly past mid-off for two, he got off to an assured start which continued to blossom until he skewed a drive to cover point off Javagal Srinath, three balls after reaching his fifty. In between, he betrayed his cricketing lineage with a compactness of stroke that was the spit of his father, Alan, the Kent captain when the county ruled the roost.

In contrast, Hick spent 64 minutes until lunch scoring just five runs, and that was after he had struck the second ball he received for four. Having gone to the wicket with the score at 360 for 2, the situation was tailormade for Hick to give the bowling a good mauling, but he seemed strangely cowed by the situation, as if India were sending down a chunk of explosive and not a five-and-a-half-ounce cricket ball.

Hick's batting average at Test level has actually gone up every year he has played. Even so, his form has appeared to alternate between hot and cold, and scores of 8, 1, 6 and 20 in the current series suggest a talent not at ease with itself. Before this season, he had been dropped for four of the five home series since his Test debut in 1991.

Hick, you may remember, was one of the players, along with his captain, who was given leave to miss the county game preceding this Test match. But whereas the rest cure clearly helped Atherton rediscover his powers of concentration, it has done little for Hick, whose mechanical batting style needs rhythm, not rest.

In any case, holidays are not for everyone, and Margaret Thatcher reputedly never took one until she was forced to by her own party. Unless he can score some big runs for Worcestershire in the next fortnight, he may find himself going much the same way when England next gather at Lord's for the first Test against Pakistan later in the month.

Even more distressing for England though, will be the possible absence of Nasser Hussain. Having had his right index finger cracked by a lifter from Srinath during the last over of Saturday's play, it will be touch and go whether he can recover in time for that Test. Broken fingers usually take at least three weeks to mend, depending on the severity of the fracture. With Hussain the one man currently in form, England will be desperately hoping he is a quick healer.

That desperation was palpable when England's physiotherapist, Wayne Morton, announced that Hussain was to undergo treatment in an oxygen chamber in order to try to speed the healing process.

His absence at the start of play meant that Atherton had to begin with a partner on nought instead of a strokeplayer with Saturday's 107 behind him. It was a factor that certainly contributed to England's laboured start, with Atherton receiving another reprieve - his third of the innings - when he was dropped by Vikram Rathore at second slip off Saurav Ganguly.

With another slice of luck and a whole day's batting unreeling before him, Atherton would have had his sights on a huge individual score. Instead, the next chance he offered proved to be his last, Venkatesh Prasad forcing the batsman to steer the ball to third slip, where Sanjay Manjrekar clung on to a low catch.

The combination of Atherton's departure and Hick's arrival and subsequent go-slow catalysed Graham Thorpe into unleashing a brace of stunning cover drives off Srinath. But if he was fortunate to survive some corking deliveries from the ever-impressive opening bowlers, it was a gentle swinging ball from Ganguly that finally had his name on it.

Hick was next to go, caught off the leading edge at mid-on trying to repeat a whip to leg off Venkatapathy Raju. It left England on the healthy but highly superstitious score of 444 for 4, a sequence that immediately struck five balls later when Jack Russell was out for nought, edging Prasad to his opposite number, Nayan Mongia.

However, refusing to be cowed by such voodoo symmetry, Chris Lewis fine- glanced his first ball to long leg for four. Lewis looked in good touch and struck the ball sweetly until Anil Kumble managed to slide the perfect flipper into his pads.

That left Dominic Cork and Min Patel to take England past India's score, and they ended the day 29 runs ahead. More than a thousand runs have been scored without both teams' first innings being completed. That is a cop- out, not a cricket match.

Trent Bridge scoreboard

Fourth day; India won toss INDIA - First Innings 521 (S R Tendulkar 177, S C Ganguly 136, R S Dravid 84, S V Manjrekar 53). ENGLAND- First Innings (Saturday: 322 for 1) *M A Atherton c Manjrekar b Prasad 160 (465 min, 376 balls, 20 fours) N Hussain retired hurt 107 (238 min, 180 balls, 12 fours) G P Thorpe lbw b Ganguly 45 (125 min, 92 balls, 5 fours) G A Hick c Srinath b Raju 20 (140 min, 83 balls, 3 fours) M A Ealham c sub (A D Jadeja) b Srinath 51 (152 min, 120 balls, 3 fours) R C Russell c Mongia b Prasad 0 (5 min, 5 balls) C C Lewis lbw b Kumble 21 (66 min, 60 balls, 2 fours) D G Cork not out 24 (91 min, 81 balls, 2 fours) M M Patel not out 22 (85 min, 72 balls, 1 four) Extras (b18, lb18, nb14) 50 Total (for 7, 774 min, 194 overs) 550 Fall (cont): 2-360 (Atherton), 3-396 (Thorpe), 4-444 (Hick), 5-444 (Russell), 6-491 (Lewis), 7-497 (Ealham). To bat: A D Mullally. Bowling: Bowling: Srinath 47-12-131-2 (nb5) (13-3-45-0, 8-3-21-1, 3-1-10-0, 3-0-6-0, 11-2-26-0, 9-3-23-1); Prasad 43-12-124-2 43-12-124-2 (nb7) (4-1-16-0, 6-2-15-0, 4-1-16-0, 3-1-12-0, 7-1-19-0, 12-2-29-1, 7-4-17-1); Kumble 37-5-97-1 (nb3) (1-0-2-0,3-1- 4-0, 4-0-21-0, 10-2-35-0, 19-2-35-1); Raju 43-12-76-1 (10-3-21-0, 11-1-23-0, 1-0-1-0, 15-6-26-1, 6-2-5-0); Ganguly 17-2-58-1 (nb3) (1-0-6-0, 5-0-18-0, 1-0-6-0, 10-2-28-1); Tendulkar 7-0-28-0 (5-0-19-0 2-0-9-0). Progress: Hussain retired hurt overnight. 350: 451 min, 111.5 overs. Lunch: 395 for 2 (Thorpe 45, Hick 5) 129 overs. 400: 542 min, 132.2 overs. 450: 625 min, 153.2 overs. Tea: 469 for 5 (Ealham 34, Lewis 16) 160 overs. 500: 690 min, 169.1 overs. 550: 772 min, 193.5 overs. Atherton's 150: 413 min, 336 balls, 18 fours. Ealham's 50: 148 min, 116 balls, 3 fours. Umpires: K T Francis (Sri Lanka) and G Sharp (Eng).