Cricket: Gatting open-minded against President's men

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NEWS clearly takes a while to filter through to Lucknow, and it would be nice to have a rupee for every local who tugged your arm and asked: 'Please, where is Mr Gower?' Given that this is the birthplace of Cliff Richard, they must be especially puzzled to discover that Gower is too old.

However, while Gower ponders on life as a square peg in a round hole, Graeme Hick continues his England career wrapped in cotton wool. Having decided to omit Michael Atherton, and continue with Alec Stewart at No 3, Hick would have been the logical choice to partner Graham Gooch in the three-day match against the Indian Board's President's XI starting here today, but the tour selectors have gone instead for Mike Gatting.

Gatting, whose international ban was lifted six months earlier than he expected, is more jovial than he was the last time he toured the subcontinent (his finger-wagging has thus far been confined to summoning dinner waiters) and is in the mood to volunteer for anything.

Even so, you would have thought after Faridabad that England would have been happier seeing him come in to bat when the spinners were operating, and the tourists are again meeting up here with the bowler who caused them so many problems in the first game, Maninder Singh. As for Gooch, he has been through so many partners (17 in Test matches) that you would not rule out the possibility of him walking out with Devon Malcolm before this tour is over.

Atherton's omission today is confirmation that he does not figure in England's one-day plans, although Stewart, who is being given the opportunity to claim the No 3 position for Test matches, will certainly move up to open with Gooch when the one-day internationals begin in Ahmadabad a week tomorrow.

Phillip DeFreitas and John Emburey, who were both unfit to play at Faridabad, are included for this match, as is the Northamptonshire left-arm seamer, Paul Taylor. This leaves only Richard Blakey without a game so far, and the itinerary is such that Blakey will be doing well to play more than once on this entire trip.

Taylor, who comes in for Paul Jarvis, is another who might find himself with a good deal of leisure time on his hands, although under the current regime, leisure only equates to not playing.

Taylor, however, said yesterday that he is the sort of player who thrives on hard work (just as well with Gooch in charge) and he has been encouraged by managing to relocate the inswinger that is such an important weapon in the left- armer's armoury.

For some reason, left-arm quick bowlers are far less thick on the ground in England than Australia, which is where Taylor has spent his last two winters. 'I've been playing club cricket in Kalgoorlie, where the pitches are so good that you have to put in a lot of extra effort to get people out, and I imagine that India will be very similar. I'm not a front-line choice, I know, but I hope to do well enough here to make them think about picking me for the one-dayers,' he said.

England might have considered resting Philip Tufnell for this match, but he bowled so poorly at Faridabad that they were left with no choice. If he does no better here, Gooch may yet be tempted to retain Ian Salisbury, who has looked the pick of the spinners in the nets, although the captain again denied yesterday that he was giving this any serious thought.

Gooch will be happy enough, however, for his batsmen to have another look at Maninder who has emerged as a candidate for the Test side again after being overcome by the yips (and an accompanying illness that was thought to be a mild nervous breakdown) three years ago. When he played league cricket in Blackpool, he was, he said, 'hitting both corners of the square' and there were occasional signs of jerkiness at Faridabad.

His confidence might not survive a battering from one of England's batsmen here, although on the evidence so far, only Gatting looks capable of it. England will also be facing Narendra Hirwani, the leg-spinner who partnered Anil Kumble on India's 1992 tour to England.

A crowd of about 18,000 is expected today, although security is so tight that whether anyone will actually get through a turnstile is another matter. Spectators are being required to pass through metal detectors. Handbags, of all things, are banned, and there are notices everywhere proclaiming that 'Lunchpacks and tiffin boxes will be heavily screened'.

According to the local paper, sniffer dogs and anti-sabotage squads will be on hand to ensure that, and I quote, 'no explosives are present, and for the removal of mischief-mongers'. The press, or those of us who had a few holes of golf before nets yesterday, are in no serious doubt that the authorities mean business. The gallery consisted of about 50 small boys and half a dozen armed policemen, and it is a new experience to have assistance on the line of a four-foot putt from the barrel of a .303 rifle.

ENGLAND TEAM (v Indian Board's President's XI at Lucknow, today): * G A Gooch, M W Gatting, A J Stewart, R A Smith, N H Fairbrother, G A Hick, C C Lewis, P A J DeFreitas, J E Emburey, J P Taylor, P C R Tufnell.