Cricket: Gatting is razor-keen

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BAR one minor detail, it was just like old times at Gatwick yesterday as England prepared to take off for the sub-continent. Graham Gooch and John Emburey were nattering away. So, too, was Keith Fletcher, their captain on the 1981-82 trek to India and now the team manager. And Mike Gatting. Where, though, was the beard?

Selected, like Emburey, for his first England tour since being paroled for taking the rand and running, Gatting explained that he had trimmed those Falstaffian whiskers to stubbly proportions because 'I thought you needed designer stubble to get in the England team these days'.

There was no disguising Gatting's delight as he contemplated a return to the lands where, in 1985, he completed his lengthy apprenticeship as a Test player by making his first five-day century - seven years after his debut. Indeed, Gatting's jocularity could scarcely have presented a starker contrast to his mood the last time he jetted out for a major tour. On that occasion, in 1989-90, he was at the head of the ill-fated 'rebel' expedition to South Africa and firmly on the defensive. 'It's nice for me to be one of the lads again,' he emphasised, 'with no hassles.' The beard, he insisted, will soon be back, 'grey whiskers and all'.