Cricket / First test: England crippled by inhibitions: India's spinners apply a stranglehold after Azharuddin entrances Eden Gardens

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India 371; England 88-5

IN THE face of spin bowling that was no more than ordinary, England's batsmen surrendered to their own inhibitions and allowed India to take a firm grip on the second day of the first Test match here yesterday. After their bowlers had continued to have difficulty restraining the flashing blade of Mohammad Azharuddin, England's top order batsmen subsided under the relentless pressure applied by the Indian spinners. Making up a deficit of 284 with half the side gone on a wearing pitch is a mountainous task.

Having restricted India to a first-innings total of 371, to which Azharuddin contributed a memorable 182, England finished the day on 88 for 5 after a miserable performance by their batsmen.

Yet at 9.45 am England's position had looked promising. Paul Jarvis drew Pravin Amre into a loose drive and found a bit of late swing and Graeme Hick's safe pair of hands did the rest. At this stage India were progressing only in singles, but gradually Azharuddin grew more adventurous and as the bowlers became perturbed by uneven footholds - a familiar problem as a match in India progresses - he discovered more scoring avenues.

It was a delicious innings full of risky flicks and square slashes, aided by exquisite timing and the bowlers' general lack of direction. It had been Graham Gooch's suggestion to bowl a defensive length, just short, pushing the batsmen on to the back foot. In fact, it was these deliveries that sat up asking to be hit, while the fuller ones took the wickets.

The field settings were depressingly stereotyped - first slip, second slip and a ludicrously deep gully. Yet Azharuddin scored a large number of runs through the third and fourth slip area. On slow pitches the first slip position is a waste of a man. How many times does he take a catch moving to his left? Virtually never.

Eventually Gooch widened the gap between himself and Hick and, as luck would have it, Azharuddin bisected them perfectly next ball. India's captain was further heartened by the sight of Paul Taylor coming on, not necessarily because of the prospect of easy runs but rather because of the damage to the pitch Taylor's left-arm over follow-through might cause. The umpiring has been able and very fair throughout this tour, but Venkataraghavan should have guided Taylor away from the danger area earlier than he did.

By midday (after lunch in these parts) the oppressive smog had lifted, and suddenly so had England's gloom. Hick, bowling into Taylor's rough, persuaded Kapil Dev to glide an easy slip catch, and then snared Azharuddin as he tried to flip the ball through midwicket. At almost a run a ball, Azharuddin had recorded his third Test century in four appearances in front of the Bengali masses and he left to rapturous applause.

At the other end, Devon Malcolm produced a peach with his first ball of a new spell, which was utterly wasted on Anil Kumble, and then re-arranged the wicket of the newcomer, Rajesh Chauhan. When Venkatapathy Raju holed out at long-on, India had lost their last five wickets for 25, and Hick had 3 for 19.

Hick was no doubt looking forward to putting his feet up for a bit and watching Gooch and Alec Stewart cream the ball about. Kapil partially helped the cause with an appalling opening over, the first ball of which pitched on the next strip and disappeared over the boundary and into the England dressing room via a speckled red carpet.

Seven deliveries later Stewart was trudging the same path. Fractionally late withdrawing his bat from Manoj Prabhakar's first ball, he watched helplessly as it bobbled into leg stump from the inside edge. What is the wisdom of opening the batting after nine and a half hours keeping wicket?

Gooch and Gatting held out for a while, but they have not shared a partnership of any consequence since June 1988, and it showed in their understanding between the wickets, while the heavy-handed southern Africans, Robin Smith and Hick, lacked the delicacy of touch to repel Kumble's leg rollers.

Hick can hardly have expected to have more wickets than runs here after two days. Most painful of all, Gatting's two and a half hours of dogged resistance was terminated by a scuttling off-break which trimmed the stumps via his pads.

The pitch was not particularly treacherous and nor was the bowling exceptional. It was more a case of inhibited batsmen being winkled out by a hypnosis that deepened with every passing maiden. If you allow spinners to dictate, they grow in confidence, bring in more close catchers and shout for anything. At the start of the day there were four English players with sore throats. By the end they were joined by 40,000 Bengalis hysterically appealing for bat-pads and lbws.

The Indian spinners are ordinary and if Gatting had been in Middlesex colours, he would have larrupped them. Unfortunately wickets fell so quickly he had no option but to retreat into a shell which only Neil Fairbrother, playing with a zestful aggression, lured him out of. Until the left-hander lofted Raju for six, England's batsmen had not found the boundary for 27 overs.

Keith Fletcher, the England manager, said: 'There were too many indecisive shots. I'm very disappointed because we have discussed how to play their spinners. Alec Stewart is an exception, but all the others were indecisive.'

He added: 'Our batsmen play that much better when they are positive. And you have to be positive in defence as well as in attack.'

It was an enthralling day's cricket enjoyed by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd who seemed more interested in eating the fruit in their packed lunches than throwing it at the players. Everywhere there were families tucking in, snotty gatemen, pontificating know-alls, old men asleep. It could have been Lord's, except for the aroma of garam masala and the thousand or so star-gazers who hang about hours afterwards for glimpses of the players getting into the team bus.

As Gooch and John Emburey met in the hotel later for their daily discussion of the day's play, the captain might have said ruefully: 'Oh Ernie, how I wish you were playing.' When in a Test match one team selects a bowling attack based on four seamers, the other on three spinners, someone is going to get it wrong.

EDEN GARDENS SCOREBOARD

Second day of five: India won toss

INDIA - First Innings

(Overnight 263-4)

*M Azharuddin c Gooch b Hick. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .182 326 min, 197 balls, 26 fours, 1 six P K Amre c Hick b Jarvis. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 88 min, 74 balls Kapil Dev c Lewis b Hick. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 70 min, 50 balls

K S More not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4 72 min, 61 balls A Kumble b Malcolm. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0 18 min, 11 balls R K Chauhan b Malcolm. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 3 min, 5 balls Venkatapathy Raju c Salisbury b Hick. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 16 min, 13 balls Extras (b6 lb6 w10 nb10). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 Total (545 min, 122.5 overs). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .371

Fall (contd): 5-278 (Amre), 6-346 (Kapil Dev), 7-362 (Azharuddin), 8-368 (Kumble), 9-370 (Chauhan), 10-371 (Raju).

Bowling: Malcolm 24-3-67-3 nb7 w1 (5-2-7-0) (4-0-8-0) (4-0-13-0) (4-0-18-1) (4-0-18-0) (3-1-3-2); Jarvis 27-5-72-2 nb1 w4 (6-3-9-0) (5-0-19-1) (3-2-2-0) (9-0-35-1) (4-0-7-0); Lewis 23-5-64-0 nb2 w1 (6-2-10-0) (5-1-12-0) (3-0-13-0) (4-0-19-0) (5-2-10-0); Taylor 19-2-65-1 w4 (8-1-25-1) (2- 0-10-0) (5-1-21-0) (4-0-9-0); Salisbury 17-2-72-1 nb3 (7-2-16-1) (6-0-29-0) (4-0-27-0); Hick 12.5-5-19-3 (2-1-9-0) (10.5-4-10-3).

Progress: Second day: 300: 413 min, 91.5 overs. 350: 481 min, 106.1 overs. Innings closed 12.56pm.

Azharuddin: 50: 99 min, 79 balls, 8 fours. 100: 174 min, 114 balls, 17 fours. 150: 265 min 155 balls, 25 fours.

England - First Innings

*G A Gooch c Azharuddin b Raju. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 68 min, 59 balls, 2 fours A J Stewart b Prabhakar. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 5 min, 1 ball M W Gatting b Chauhan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33 160 min, 143 balls, 2 fours R A Smith c Amre b Kumble. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 11 min, 15 balls G A Hick b Kumble. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 11 min, 12 balls N H Fairbrother not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17 81 min, 60 balls, 1 six I D K Salisbury not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 6 min, 10 balls Extras (b8 lb7 w4). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Total (for 5, 176 min, 50 overs). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88

Fall: 1-8 (Stewart), 2-37 (Gooch), 3-38 (Smith), 4-40 (Hick), 5-87 (Gatting).

To bat: C C Lewis, P W Jarvis, J P Taylor, D E Malcolm.

Bowling (to date): Kapil Dev 6-1-18-0 w1; Prabhakar 6-2-7-1; Kumble 17-5-24-2 (11-4- 12-2) (6-1-12-0); Raju 13-6-15-1; Chauhan 8-3-9-1.

Progress: 50: 113 mins, 32.3 overs.

Umpires: P D Reporter and S Venkataraghavan.

(Photograph omitted)

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