Cricket: Emburey takes the wrong flight path

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The Independent Online
APART from dishing out pills for the inevitable doses of Delhi belly, the England physiotherapist has not had much to do so far on this tour. However, if John Emburey spends much more time watching balls disappearing back over his head, he may soon be reporting for treatment on a cricked neck.

Emburey's reputation as the most miserly spinner in English cricket has taken something of a battering in his two matches in India, and his decision to turn over a new leaf (cynics might say it is the only thing he has turned in his 20 years in the game) has proved to be one of the most disastrous experiments since Dr Jekyll started drinking out of test tubes.

Cricket balls have seldom been in danger of contracting vertigo after leaving Emburey's hand, but at the age of 40, he decided that he did not want to be remembered as a negative bowler, and began giving the ball more air. What he did not envisage was the ball would spend considerably more time in the air after it had left the bat, and several deliveries could probably have been utilised by BSkyB for bouncing their TV pictures back home.

Emburey has so far been hit for 12 sixes in two games, nine of them by Navjot Sidhu, and with the first two one-day internationals coming up next week, England clearly have a problem with the player that Graham Gooch would normally regard as his key bowler in this type of cricket.

It is just as well that this sort of punishment has been dished out to such an unflappable and phlegmatic character as Emburey (if Philip Tufnell had been hit about this badly, the wheels might have fallen off completely) but even so, the next time Emburey sights Sidhu at the business end, he would be less than human if he did not feel like a man fighting a bush fire with a water pistol.

'I don't think,' Emburey said yesterday, 'that I have ever been hit around like this by one man before. It has not made me frightened to bowl at him, but let's put it this way: I wouldn't be averse to giving him a single and bowling at the other guy instead.

'I may have to alter my length and line out here. I've been watching how the Indian spinners bowl - wide of the crease and everything just outside off stump - and because they bowl it faster and shorter than we tend to do in England, it is difficult for our batsmen to drive them.

'On top of this, the Indian batsmen play forward with their bat hidden behind the front pad, confident that the umpires will not interpret this as failing to offer a shot and give them out lbw, and whenever we flight the ball, they simply regard it as a free hit.'

Ordinarily, spinners do not mind batsmen trying to hit them for six, because they always feel there is a chance of them holing out. However, 12 sixes into the tour, Emburey is beginning to mind quite a bit, and Keith Fletcher, the team manager, might now be revising his opinion of the first of Sidhu's three encounters with Emburey, when he described it as 'premeditated slogging'.

Gooch will be even more concerned, given that Emburey is his closest chum (on previous tours, they have inherited the nicknames of Hansel and Gretel), but he knows Emburey's solid temperament, and said after Emburey's latest mauling: 'I'm sure John will bounce back.' At the moment, though, Emburey is mostly bouncing back off the pavilion roof.

Emburey conceded 59 runs off 45 balls in Wednesday's one-day defeat, and the 16 he conceded off three balls effectively finished the game. However, if you compiled a list of England players competing for the duffer-of-the-match award, Emburey would have been by no means certain to have finished in the top three, and Fletcher made his discontent more than plain yesterday.

'It was a second-rate performance,' he said, 'which hopefully taught one or two that you cannot put in 80 per cent and expect to win. Graham Gooch is a very proud man, but he wasn't feeling too proud after this performance.

'I don't believe in naughty boy nets, and they had the next day off - but whether they used it to walk around the Taj Mahal (several did) or relax at the hotel, I hope they were thinking about things and getting their minds focused.'

Fletcher conceded that the early weeks had been low-key - 'It feels a bit strange; no one really feels we've started yet' - and there had been many distractions off the field. 'We've been a bit in limbo,' he said, 'unsure of where we are going, who we are playing, and when, but this is no excuse. The players should be professional enough to put these things out of their mind when they play for England.'

On the brighter side, the violence appears to be diminishing at the moment, and the tour is less in jeopardy now than it was a week ago. On the other hand, they have a curious view over here about what represents a quiet day. The Times of India's front page headline yesterday was: '11 Dead as Peace Returns to Bombay.'

Salisbury's incentive, page 31