Cricket: England take chance to practise pouts and sulks

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The Independent Online
IF, as the evidence suggests, this England cricket team is sold on the virtues of sweat and hard labour, then they have come to the right place. The only thing fast about India is how rapidly it can reduce a man in a hurry to tears, and the funereal pace of the pitch and the opening day's play on this tour may be a grim portent of things to come.

The grandly named Nahar Singh Stadium was an apt enough venue, a half-constructed, quarter-full, wholly ugly concrete bowl, with the air 90 per cent soot deposit, and on a pitch apparently 100 per cent chewing gum, barely a stroke worthy of the name was played all day.

Delhi, missing only Manoj Prabakhar to the Indian team still playing in South Africa, nudged and nicked their way to 190 for 3, and if they are the Ranji Trophy champions, it must be because all the other teams died of boredom before they did.

It was not so much the runs per over, which finally staggered above two in the final hour, as the manner in which they came. Long periods of total stagnation were followed by little spurts of boundaries, almost all of them via involuntary squirts through the slips, or down to a fielding position that has dropped out of fashion in recent times, third man.

Midway through one of the sessions, a camera crew invaded the field to film the teams taking a drinks break, presumably on the basis that it was far more exciting stuff than anything on offer while the game was actually taking place.

England, on the face of it, did themselves no favours by inserting the opposition, although there was some early life in the pitch which died away completely after a first session in which the tourists might not unreasonably have picked up four wickets instead of one.

Such breeze as there was before lunch was largely down to fresh air shots, and the snicks invariably arrived in the slip cordon (or bisected it) at ground-level scuttle.

Then, of course, there were the hard luck stories. Visitors to India do not often leave without feeling that they have had a raw deal from the umpiring regarding lbw appeals, and while England's repertoire of pouts and sulks rarely equates to the amount of rough justice dispensed, they will not feel inclined to alter their customary view after yesterday that, in this part of the world, it requires 30 wickets to win a Test match rather than the customary 20.

The plus points for England would not have taxed the fingers of more than one hand, although Paul Jarvis was comfortably the liveliest of the quick bowlers, and already has first claim on the new ball for the Test series.

Devon Malcolm, on the other hand, appeared to have left most of his fire in the nets and one of these days, the old adage about all work and no play may possibly occur to this management.

Chris Lewis, a late replacement when Phillip DeFreitas withdrew with a thigh strain, rarely hurried the batsmen into their strokes (delete strokes, insert forward defensives) but Lewis did take one (at slip) of three very sharp catches that brought England their wickets.

The others were held by Alec Stewart, diving to his right, and Graeme Hick, whose reputation as one of the best slip catchers in the world did not suffer with his effort late in the day, not least as he had every excuse to have been nodding off by then.

The bulk of Delhi's runs came from their opener Hitesh Sharma, who batted right through the 90- over day for 87 not out, although the lowest gear was engaged by Bantoo Singh, 129 balls for 15. The only hint of panache was provided by Ajay Sharma, who faces England again in their second match at Lucknow and is regarded as more likely than Hitesh to make the Test team if the Indian selectors embark on one of their occasional bouts of bloodletting.

The frustration of the day spilled over into the press box, where the BBC radio commentator discovered that his phone had failed to materialise (silly chap probably only ordered it a year ago instead of the recommended decade) and the sea of red tape that India is in perennial danger of drowning in prevented all further communication other than one call from the adjoining golf club bar. Best of luck to Sky TV, although as India have yet to land a man with a rubber stamp on their satellite, they might just be all right.

If England have learned anything from their trip so far, it ought to be that they badly require Ian Salisbury's variety in the attack. Philip Tufnell got nothing to turn yesterday, but Salisbury is bowling so well in the nets that even that perennial destroyer of spin, Mike Gatting, is hard pressed to do much with him.

The management, however, have already confirmed that he will be released to join the A tour in Australia in another couple of weeks and, with Lord Ted as chairman, the selectors will not be inclined to admit to any errors that might have been made.

Ravi Shastri, India's vice-captain and opening batsman, looks certain to miss most of the home series against England after undergoing knee surgery. Shastri, at present on tour, had arthroscopic surgery in Cape Town on Saturday to drain fluid from his left knee in a repeat of an operation he had 12 months ago. The first Test starts on 29 January in Calcutta.

(England won toss)

DELHI - First Innings

M Nayyar c Stewart b Jarvis. . . . . . . . . . . . . .11

H Sharma not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87

Bantoo Singh c Lewis b Hick. . . . . . . . . . . . . .15

A K Sharma c Hick b Lewis. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .30

K P Bhaskar not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22

Extras (b2 lb8 nb3 w2). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25

Total (for 3). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 190

Fall: 1-28 2-95 3-151.

To bat: V Razdan, * Kirti Azad, M Chaturvedi, A S Wassan, F Ghayas, Maninder Singh.

ENGLAND: * G A Gooch, M A Atherton, A J Stewart, M W Gatting, G A Hick, N H Fairbrother, C C Lewis, D A Reeve, P W Jarvis, P C R Tufnell, D E Malcolm.

Umpires: V K Ramaswamy and R Rathore.


Test reports, page 23