Cricket / First Test: Gatting offers turning point

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The Independent Online
IT IS a sobering thought for England - after the torture by spin they have suffered in Calcutta - that the pitches for the remaining two Test matches are bound to be prepared with a view to India playing with three spinners.

England's batsmen have found themselves out of their depth against a form of attack they so seldom see. Their progress now in India will depend on how well they are able to learn the lessons of Eden Gardens.

The problems the spinners pose are not insoluble either, as was so clearly and cheerfully demonstrated by those two doughty bowlers: Ian Salisbury, who batted for more than four and a half hours all told, and Paul Taylor, who spent more than two and a half hours at the crease. And it was they who made sure that there was something left for the fifth day.

Of the major batsmen, only Mike Gatting played better, although all three of them found the same correct and essentially straightforward solution. When playing forward, it was right forward with the bat tucked in behind the pad and angled down to kill the spin.

When they played back, they went right back to give themselves as much time as possible to adjust if the ball should turn more or less than expected, or keep awkwardly low.

In his innings of 81, Gatting also decided the areas in which he could safely attack, sometimes using his feet to do so, and was successful until he misjudged the width of an off-break pitching wide of the off stump when sweeping. He sheltered behind his most effective defensive technique whenever the ball was not in these areas.

It must be remembered, too, that the three present Indian spinners are not in the same class as the likes of Bedi, Venkataraghavan, Prasanna and Chandrasekhar of 20 years ago. Neither are they supported by close catchers in the same league as Ajit Wadekar, their captain, and Eknath Solkar - the Indians dropped seven catches in this match.

But to see Robin Smith, in particular and, to a lesser degree, Graeme Hick and Neil Fairbrother, floundering against Venkatapathy Raju, Chauhan and Kumble made one fear for England's chances of getting back into this series.

If they are to do so, the main batsmen must learn quickly not just to survive but how to go beyond that and dominate - it is a task that may be too much for them.