Cricket: England stumble as Azharuddin ascends: Hick clicks but India's revitalised captain shines brightest as an unhappy tour ends in disarray and despair

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England 265-4; India 267-6

India win by four wickets

AN innings of appropriately regal splendour sent Graham Gooch home last night with much to consider. Mohammad Azharuddin's unbeaten 95 from 63 balls robbed Gooch of not only a chance of a consolation one-day success after his Test series defeat but also his certainty that hard work is a substitute for class.

Azharuddin batted with the freedom of a man who once stood on the gallows but now occupies the throne. Two months ago he sat in a crowded room at Cape Town's Newlands ground and voiced his disappointment at India's humiliating defeat to South Africa.

With a record of one victory in 17 Test matches, he was soon being pilloried at home by everyone from former captains downwards. 'They gave me the captaincy and they can take it away,' he said at the time, adding that he was beyond caring.

It would just as understandable if Gooch uttered something similar at Gatwick Airport this morning and if he needed inspiration at this, his lowest moment as England captain, it can be found in Azharuddin's transformation. Like Gooch, his batting form had deserted him. Like Gooch, he headed for the practice nets but only for minor technical readjustments. The change he needed most was in himself and the Indian team manager, Ajit Wadekar, told him to play his shots, let his natural ability flow, and be positive.

He did so on the first day of the first Test of this tour, scoring 182 with a style and ease that transformed the mood of both teams and set the pattern on the series.

Yesterday, with all India behind him, he produced some glittering shots that left England celebrating every dot ball. As worthy as Graeme Hick's earlier century had been, it was pedestrian in comparison. Hick's hundred will today be buried in the match reports under Azharuddin's brilliance and Gooch's despair.

One of the main reasons for India's transformation from southern hemisphere whipping boys to Asian giant is a discovery that in Manoj Prabahkar they have a bowler who can bat as well as some players who do so for a living.

The competitive Prabahkar underlined the point with a resourceful 73 that set up India's three- wicket victory. The glitter was delivered by Azharuddin but the base was provided by Prabahkar. He so wore down England's attack that when Sachin Tendulkar took over, India scored 79 in nine overs and even a late flurry of wickets could not deny them.

England, making a much better job of the slog than on Thursday, had looked to have a winning total after Hick and Robin Smith, both exuding confidence, produced two well-paced innings with the customary artful support from Neil Fairbrother. But, Jarvis apart, they again bowled poorly, with India six times taking double figures off an over.

For several hours the day was a re-run of Thursday. For 30 overs England's innings was a carbon copy of their previous one.

Alec Stewart, 24 hours from being tour captain in his own right, was as out of touch while Smith was again the model opener. But this time the innings did not collapse when he was dismissed, although, had India held their catches, it might have done; Fairbrother and Hick having been dropped off successive Kapil Dev deliveries when 19 and 81 respectively.

Kapil's next over went for 17. Hick took 10 off the first two deliveries and, although losing Gatting and Fairbrother in the slog, he eased to his first international one-day hundred well before the innings ended two overs short after India had produced a pedestrian over-rate. It meant Gooch, batting at No 7, turned out on his last overseas appearance just for his captaincy.

It was a sad way to go out and his parting words to the troops sounded like a personal valediction: 'I've had some good times on tour, but this was one of the bad ones. I've no regrets about not going to Sri Lanka. Someone else has to have a go at the captaincy.

Gooch added: 'I have not made a decision about my future and won't make up my mind for at least a month or so. I need time away from India to reflect on what has happened and what I want to do.'

Sri Lanka have retained Arjuna Ranatunga as captain and recalled the wicketkeeper Ashley de Silva in their team for the first one-day international against England in Colombo next Wednesday.

SRI LANKA (v England first one-day international, Colombo, 10 March): A Ranatunga (capt), P A de Silva, A P Gurusinha, R S Mahanama, U C Hathurusinghe, A M de Silva, S T Jayasuriya, H P Tillekeratne (wkt), R S Kalpage, C P H Ramanayake, P Wickremasinghe.

(Photograph omitted)

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