FOR India's batsmen, at least, a diet of English bowling represents the equivalent of dining out at the Savoy Grill. As for the tourists, their prospects of survival in this Test appear to rest partly with their ability to tackle India's spinners and partly with the tour manager's expertise with a can-opener.
Bob Bennett, whose own waistline suggests that Madras's Chinese chefs will not go short of custom for a day or two yet, yesterday branched out into the restaurant business. Bob's Bistro is an intimate little establishment (lunchtimes only, table bookings advisable) situated in the cramped surroundings of the visitors' dressing-room at the Chepauk Stadium.
The decor is none too romantic ('would sir care to hang his jockstrap on the back of the chair?'), Philip Tufnell feels a little lonely in the smoking section and, with a menu comprising tinned tuna, tinned ham, and baked beans, and a wine list that runs to nothing more toothsome than a plastic beaker of Gatorade, a Michelin star make take some time.
However, once poisoned, twice shy, and Bennett's soup kitchen for Madras's weak and needy (ie. England's cricketers) should do a roaring trade for the rest of the tour. Bennett says it is all to do with the food (ferried to the ground from the hotel) arriving cold, but it is too much of a coincidence not to be related to England's suspicions that a descendant of Lucrezia Borgia is working in disguise as a Chinese waiter. Frankly, the hotel's advertising plug for this week ('dine with Gatting and Gooch') does not look like being much of a winner.
On the field, the England attack's attempts at can-opening have been the rough equivalent of snapping off the key on a corned beef tin, while India's batsmen have indulged in an orgy of gluttony in which they only pushed the plate away after recording their highest total against an England side in their own country.
Of the three players who fell ill on the morning of the game, Robin Smith had recovered well enough to take the field yesterday, Graham Gooch arrived in mid-afternoon, and Mike Gatting came on for a half-hour cameo immediately after tea. As Gatting's half- hour consisted of being whacked on the shin at silly point when Kiran More tucked into a long hop, followed next ball by Gatting dropping the easiest catch that can ever have been spilt in either a Test match or on the village green, he probably wished he had stayed in bed.
It was such a sitter that the umpire already had his finger in the air and Ian Salisbury was dancing down the pitch looking for someone to hug. Gatting has clearly been a keen observer of Ian Botham on these occasions and while Salisbury frothed, he was busy rubbing his shin and pointing at the sun. It did not save him, though, from being summarily dismissed for yet another of England's myriad substitutes and it just about summed up the tourists' day.
Salisbury had a horror (103 off 19 overs yesterday, despite two wickets) and although, ironically, he was the one spinner to look like taking wickets, he also offered at least one free hit per over. Tufnell was not much better (23 overs for 70 and another splurge of no-balls) and Graeme Hick was comfortably the most controlled of the three.
However, in all the circumstances, it was no time for anyone to be bowling to Sachin Tendulkar in his present form. He is already a genius at 19 and by the time he reaches his 20th birthday in April, he will have played in no fewer than 25 Tests. It is difficult not to predict, assuming that Test cricket is not killed off by the one-dayer, that Tendulkar will go on to eclipse Sunil Gavaskar's 10,121 Test runs before he is finished.
If so, we are in for some rare entertainment. Resuming on 70 not out, he rattled to his fifth Test century with three magnificent fours in five balls from Devon Malcolm and finally went on to eclipse his previous best Test score of 148 in Sydney just over a year ago. So much of his punishment had been directed at Salisbury that when he finally sent up a skier attempting to add to his 24 fours and a six, Salisbury knocked people out of his way to make sure he took the catch himself.
Any doubts that Tendulkar might not have the mental stamina to break Gavaskar's world record were erased by the way he dug in again after reaching three figures in three hours. His next 50 took him two and three-quarter hours, but he was threatening more mayhem when Salisbury finally got him.
With Chris Lewis off the field all day nursing an ankle strain, Paul Jarvis was comfortably more threatening than Malcolm and two balls after dismissing Mohammad Azharuddin to a spliced mishook, Pravin Amre, on 0, survived a simple slip catch to John Emburey that was far more expensive than the Gatting miss.
Amre went on to make 78, figuring in the third century stand of the innings with Tendulkar and, on a pitch still assisting strokeplay off either foot, a total of 442 for 4 is not what you want to see with Kapil Dev coming in to bat. Kapil greeted Malcolm's first ball to him with a six over long-off and was enjoying himself so hugely after tea that he almost had to be dragged off when Azhar declared.
England's decision to open the batting with Smith was part forced, part tactical, to which India responded rather unkindly by tossing the new ball to Anil Kumble.
However, Smith and Alec Stewart survived and it now remains to be seen whether England can survive this match and Bennett's cooking.
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