Cricket: England put back on the right track

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A SMOOTH tour of the subcontinent is not just about results, and England are showing encouraging signs of learning how to play the game here off the field as well as on it. When the tourists' think- tank sat down to plot the strategy for today's second one-day international, the conversation moved swiftly on from Indian right- handers and left-handers, to the even more important topic of Indian back-handers.

England have managed to get rid of tonight's potentially hair- raising night-time bus ride back to Delhi (the Indian road trick involves driving as fast as you can without lights on the wrong side of the road) by the simple expedient of giving all their complimentary tickets for today's match to the Chandigarh stationmaster.

As was the case in Jaipur, demand exceeds supply by some way and, given that the stationmaster is keener to see the game than he is to see the last train to Delhi off on time, he now has a pocketful of tickets and a slightly altered railway timetable. By some miracle, the five o'clock to Delhi will now leave at half-past - or at whatever time it takes England to shower and change and get to the platform.

It was impossible yesterday to look as though you were even remotely connected to the England team and not be badgered for a ticket, even though the ground has much the same capacity as Lord's. As was the case in Jaipur, there will be almost as many people staring at the elevated scoreboard from the pavements outside than from among the 25,000-or-so who make it past the barbed-wire and through the turnstiles.

The breathless nature of the first game, plus the fact that this is only the fourth international match to come to Chandigarh, has heightened the already phenomenal interest.

England might have had a rough time getting here from Jaipur (plane, coach and train), but they certainly have enjoyed their stay. For one thing, Chandigarh is the only venue they have come across so far where a lungful of air does not carry a government health warning or, to be more precise, two government health warnings.

Chandigarh is the capital of two states, the Punjab and Haryana, which, given India's gargantuan appetite for bureaucracy, probably explains why there are so many happy faces here. Two governors' residences, two parliaments and twice the normal amount of forms to fill in. Paradise.

Situated not too far from the foothills of the Himalayas, anyone labouring under the misapprehension that England are suffering from the heat out here should know that it is snowing 100 miles away. Chandigarh is also one of the few Indian cities that is in something other than total chaos. Designed by an Italian 30-odd years ago, its layout is such that even Indian drivers find it difficult to crack the one-way street system.

As far as the cricket goes, one- way traffic is something that India have been fearing in this six-match series. In 1992, they won only half a dozen of their 24 one-day internationals, and 1993 has not begun much better. The home side will be under heavy pressure today, not least because individual failure occasionally results in finding a lot of angry people in your back garden and several bricks through the sitting-room window.

The missile potential for today's game diminished a little last night when John Emburey, who has been struck over every boundary rope he has so far encountered, was ruled out of England's side with a groin strain.

Emburey, however, has been remarkably sanguine about the punishment he has taken, and it is short odds on that his astute cricketing brain and unflappable temperament will unravel the problem before too long. Ian Salisbury, who is 23 today, took Emburey's place in the 12, although whether he would have been preferred to Phil Tufnell is not known. Tufnell has succumbed to the customary complaint in India, which rather flushed away his own prospects of selection.