Flying in yesterday morning to join a party laden down with sponsored beer, but no doctor, two temporarily unserviceable spinners being attended to by a bowling coach with (worthy guru though Geoff Arnold is) 115 Test wickets as a seamer, England's spiritual adviser, Andrew Wingfield-Digby, arrived at precisely the moment that the tourists found themselves utterly without a prayer.
Only rain could have saved England yesterday (this being India, the next drop is due some time in June) and the home team duly knocked off the 43 runs they required to win for the loss of a couple (both to euphoric head-up slogs) of their 10 remaining wickets. One down with two to play has never looked so irretrievable.
Nigh on 20,000 people turned out to witness the last rites at Eden Gardens, but even after a gap of two decades since the last home win in this city, the firecrackers had clearly not gone past their sell-by date, and the final 67 minutes of this Test match were explosive only in the amount of gunpowder being ignited on the terraces.
Had Ted Dexter been consulted, the England chairman would probably have added noise pollution to the smog in his argument that England are merely an ecological disaster rather than a cricketing one. If the next two Tests are played inside the monastery walls of an unleaded city, with two umpires from Greenpeace consulting their meters and offering England's batsmen the smog as soon as India's spinners came on, there is still hope.
Refreshing though it is that Dexter wishes to air his thoughts in public (when his predecessor, PBH May, was asked about the 1986 debacle in the West Indies, he said: 'I can't comment, I'm on holiday'), Dexter is compiling an impressive record of batty utterances in this country, beginning with the Nehru Cup in 1989, when he flew in and out without seeing a single ball bowled.
Deprived of his voice by a bout of laryngitis, Dexter committed his thoughts to paper via a statement of such interminable length that he almost went down with writer's cramp.
On MCC's Gower vote last week, he dismissively claimed that he had 'fully explained' everything at the time of selection (in fact, after opening the press conference with: 'I'm not answering any question on people who have not been picked', he passed the buck to Keith Fletcher) and on Monday night he concluded that England's batsmen had benefited from a 'good education' here.
However, if Lord Ted regards the tearing up of the L-plates when your vehicle is upside down in a ditch as a bonus, others, happily, do not quite share that point of view. Graham Gooch said: 'No way was this a big turning wicket - we have to put up our hands and say we were not good enough', and Fletcher came as close as he dared to admitting a cock-up in selection. 'It is easy to be wise afterwards, but we thought at the start of the game that we had picked the best available side.'
This is a debatable point, although in fairness to the selectors, their decision to play four seamers (which is also going to cost them a substantial over-rate fine) was less a misreading of the pitch than an accurate assessment of form. Neither John Emburey nor Philip Tufnell have looked anything like Test-class bowlers, and if England are to salvage anything from this series, Tufnell's rehabilitation in the next match against the Rest of India at Vishakhapatnam is nigh on essential.
The major question mark about Tufnell achieving this, however, does not so much lie in his spinning finger, as between his ears. Tufnell is very much a mood bowler, and India, to be perfectly frank, has not done a great deal to improve his mood at all.
Compared to Australia, where the oysters have not died of asphyxia, the Chardonnay is nicely chilled, and the nightclubs never close, India comes as a bit of culture shock.
No one ever quite comes to terms with it, but Tufnell has been more hang-dog than most, and the retention of Ian Salisbury has probably acted more as a deflationary influence than the hoped-for cattle prod. The next game should determine whether he has any meaningful part left to play here.
By the time the second Test comes around in Madras tomorrow week, England ought to have Mike Atherton fit and available, but they have a real problem in their top order with Robin Smith. On the evidence of his batting against spin, there are only two places available for Smith, Nos 1 or 11, and serious thought will have to be given to leaving him out in Madras.
On the horses-for-courses principle, Smith would not have been selected for this tour, and purely on form (match figures of 5 for 28 here, and four razor- sharp catches notwithstanding) neither should Graeme Hick.
However, there were other criteria at work last September than footling matters like form, experience and aptitude against spin, which is why the likes of Mark Ramprakash are currently out of favour, and David Gower is working for Sky TV, doubtless wondering what sort of flak would have come his way had he managed to get himself stumped as bizarrely as Gooch did here. Anyone thinking of shedding tears for England at the moment should save them for a worthier cause.
(Fifth day: India won toss)
INDIA - First Innings 371 (M Azharuddin 182, S R Tendulkar 50).
ENGLAND - First Innings 163 (A R Kumble
3-50, Venkatapathy Raju 3-39, R K Chauhan 3-30).
ENGLAND - Second Innings 286 (M W Gatting 81; Venkatapathy Raju 3-80, A R Kumble 3-76).
INDIA - Second Innings
(Overnight: 36 for 0)
M Prabhakar b Hick. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 85 min, 64 balls N S Sidhu st Stewart b Hick. . . . . . . . . . .37 102 min, 68 balls, 5 fours, 1 six V G Kambli not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 34 min, 26 balls, 2 fours S R Tendulkar not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 17 min, 19 balls, 3 fours Extras (lb4, nb1). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Total (for 2, 121 min, 29.2 overs). . . . . . . 82
Fall: 1-51 (Prabhakar), 2-62 (Sidhu).
Bowling: Malcolm 6-1-16-0 (2-1-5-0) (4-0-11-0); Jarvis 5.2-1-23-0 (2-1-1-0) (3.2-0-22-0); Taylor 3-1-9-0 (nb1) (one spell); Salisbury 6-3-16-0 (1-0-7-0) (5-3- 9-0); Lewis 3-1-5-0; Hick 6-1-9-2 (one spell each).
Progress: Fourth day: Close: 36-0 (Sidhu 20, Prabhakar 12) in 12 overs. Fifth day: 50: 79 min, 19 overs. India won at 10.22am.
Umpires: P D Reporter and S Venkataraghavan.
INDIA WON BY 8 WICKETS
Man of the match: M Azharuddin.Reuse content