Cricket: Emburey surplus to England game plan

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The Independent Online
GRAHAM GOOCH yesterday revealed that beneath that business-like exterior there also lies a heart of granite when he left his closest friend, John Emburey, out of the first Test match against India. It was otherwise no great surprise, and probably disappointed Navjot Sidhu, who has already dispatched Emburey for nine sixes on this tour, as much as it did the 40-year-old Middlesex off-spinner.

Once the decision had been taken to keep Ian Salisbury on in India, England's bowling strategy for this match was always going to revolve around perming two spinners from three, and Salisbury and Philip Tufnell were last night chosen ahead of Emburey in the 12- man squad. The final decision this morning was likely to revolve around whether to play both, or include Paul Taylor, the uncapped Northamptonshire left-armer, in a four-pronged seam attack.

The final choice probably boiled down to a straight decision between Emburey and Tufnell. Neither has bowled well, and the latter's erratic attitude has once again caused Gooch to raise the occasional eyebrow, but Tufnell's record of having played a major part in victory in three of his 10 Tests clearly swayed the tour selectors.

The one doubt among the batsmen yesterday was Mike Atherton, who spent the day in bed with a virus similar to the one Gooch picked up recently, but he was up on his feet again (albeit groggily) by the time the players sat down for their eve-of-Test dinner.

To judge by the crowds that have gathered daily outside the team's hotel, straining for a glimpse of the players, cricket appears to be as popular as it ever was in India.

Comparatively speaking, it is one-day cricket that is now the opium of the Indian masses, with Test cricket more of a pinch of snuff. However, it is still a far cry from last winter, when Gooch's side turned up on the first morning of the first Test in Christchurch, and discovered that only the groundsman had beaten them through the gate.

Were this a one-day international, Eden Gardens would have been bursting at the rivets this morning, but Calcutta remains the hotbed of Indian cricket, and there are still sure to be more than enough bums on the 90,452 numbered seats to produce the Indian crowd's traditional cacophony of noise. England's most curious problem here is how not to freeze in 80-degree heat.

The comparative decline of Test cricket on the subcontinent is shown by the fact that this is the first time for 27 years that the Calcutta ground authorities have printed tickets to be sold on the day. The last time they did so, when West Indies were here in 1966, the 70,000 locked outside stormed the gates and set fire to the stadium.

This is not quite the sort of thing that England would wish to encourage, but it would be rather nice if the cricket in this series mirrors the remarkable game between Australia and the West Indies in Adelaide and encourages Indian crowds back to Test cricket in those sort of numbers.

What England, in their pursuit of thoroughness and professionalism, might also bear in mind is not to remove too much of the romance that is traditionally associated with the game.

There is little sign of anyone in the English game coming through to match the charisma of the likes of David Gower and Ian Botham, nor indeed much incentive for them to do so. Gower is here, but only with a microphone and a television monitor, and much of the tedious preamble to this series would have been a good bit more bearable for a few hours of watching him bat. Ted Dexter, the England committee chairman, is in town, and in response to the MCC's 'no' vote for a motion of no confidence in the selectors, yesterday produced a written statement that, even by the standards of his previous utterances on this affair, oozed pomposity.

It read: 'I am very pleased (about the vote) despite the sophisticated and provocative tactics of the so-called rebels, and particularly pleased that the responsible officers of MCC have been spared the embarrassment of taking matters further to what must have been a crushing defeat at a full TCCB (Test and County Cricket Board) meeting. The overall strategy of the team selection for this particular tour was fully explained at a national press conference after the the selection meeting. Committee decisions about individual players must remain confidential.

'I hope that cricket lovers may now be able to concentrate on the Test series in India . . . Goodwill messages to Graham Gooch and his boys will be much appreciated.'

It is a moot point as to whether a national referendum on this matter, as opposed to an MCC vote, would result in messages of a raspberry-blowing nature to Lord Ted and his boys, and Gower's comments yesterday provided a suitable contrast in humility.

'Forty-three per cent would be enough to win a general election,' he said, 'but seriously, it has long since ceased to be an issue with me. I will bump into Goochie at some stage during this match, and I'm sure there will be no problem.'

Gooch, while still weak from his recent illness, was up and about, and just about well enough yesterday to receive a '100th Test' commemorative cake presented at the hotel poolside by one of the England sponsors. It would be a nice touch (not to mention a change from Brian Johnston) if Gower were to announce the receipt of a 'very nice marzipan sponge sent in by a Mr Gooch of Brentwood . . .' in the commentary box today.

ENGLAND (from): * G A Gooch, M A Atherton, A J Stewart, R A Smith, M W Gatting, G A Hick, C C Lewis, P W Jarvis, I D K Salisbury, D E Malcolm, P C R Tufnell, J P Taylor.

INDIA (from): N S Sidhu, M Prabhakar, V G Kambli, * M Azharuddin, S R Tendulkar, P K Amre, Kapil Dev, K S More, R Chauhan, A R Kumble, S L V Raju, W V Raman.

Umpires: P D Reporter and S Venkataraghavan.

Jarvis relishing his return,

Australia's Test dilemma, page 30

(Photograph omitted)