Cricket: Gooch can follow in the steps of Jardine: Scyld Berry goes back 60 years to find encouraging signs for the tour party

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A FEW months short of 60 years have passed since England played their first Test series in India. Yet the similarities between that inaugural tour, led by Douglas Jardine, and the one that departs tomorrow under Graham Gooch, are encouragingly numerous.

Take the captains for a start. Now Jardine was not born in Leytonstone, and he never supported West Ham, and he would definitely not have responded to a pressman calling him 'Jardie'. But he and Gooch have it in common that they have to be classified among England's half-a-dozen best captains, even if Gooch is not yet great at on-field captaincy.

In 1933-34 the series consisted of three Test matches, as the forthcoming one will, and at the same three centres of Eden Gardens in Calcutta, Chepauk in Madras, and Bombay. The only difference is that the Bombay Test on this tour will be held at the Wankhede Stadium, not the Gymkhana ground on the Maidan, which was, incidentally, the first Test ever to include Sunday play.

On Jardine's tour England found that India's bowling was largely comprised of medium- pace, for all the subcontinent's image of being the land of snake-like twirl. This time it is sure to be the same again: most of India's bowling is now done by Kapil Dev, Prabhakar and the new, quite lively Srinath, although the term 'attack' is still best reserved for what afflicts the tourists in the early hours. Of India's spinners, the top-spinning Anil Kumble has accuracy and bounce, the left- armer Raju accuracy and spin, and the leggie Hirwani spin and bounce; but none possesses all three attributes.

Increasingly, India's 20 years from 1961-2 are looking to be an interregnum in the reign of pace. That was the period when India had their wonderful spinners, and it is only in that period that England have lost a Test series there. Since then India have reverted to pace-based bowling like every other country: and it is medium- pace, which might wobble out a few England batsmen when the ball is new, rather than the speed which can complete a collapse by wrapping up a lower order cheaply.

Thanks to the playing conditions as well, England have the opportunity to win the series 2-0, as Jardine's party did. These playing conditions are new and potentially decisive, for they stipulate a six-hour day in the Tests, instead of the 5 1/2 hours hitherto in India. It has been as much because of shorter hours of play as the grassless pitches that in the subcontinent alone half or more Test matches have ended in draws.

A minimum of 90 overs a day has been agreed, along with 30- hour Tests, in accordance with the ICC's new principles. In 1981-82, when England, under Keith Fletcher, and India, under Sunil Gavaskar, both brought the game down to the metabolic rate of a water buffalo, only 350 overs were bowled in the 27 1/2 hours of the Madras Test, which ended in the most mind-numbing of draws. Had 450 overs been delivered, it may have reached a conclusion.

England can make use of another advantage here, although spectators and media-wallahs might not consider it one. To cram six hours' play into the brief winter daylight, play has to start at 9.30 in Madras and Bombay, and at 9.15 in Calcutta: one-day internationals have started at so unearthly an hour but I cannot think that a Test has. While the outfield is due to be roped every morning, enough moisture should remain in the pitch to stimulate England's five pace bowlers. They will be using Indian-made balls too - SG Test balls - which they have found at Lilleshall to swing a little more than English ones.

Strange as this may sound, the six one-day internationals in the itinerary provide another reason why England should beat India in the Test series. Ever since India won the 1983 World Cup, a player who nicks a winning four in the last over of a one-day international has been far more of a hero than the batsman who has saved a Test with a six-hour hundred. So it is little wonder that India's current batsmen are wizards at making a quick 30 or 40 in favourable conditions, but only Sachin Tendulkar has shown an appetite for the uphill struggle.

Ajit Wadekar, the new team manager, is an old-soldier type who will do his best to restore Test match values, but he is fighting against a remorseless cultural shift. The country's new multi-million mass of television-watchers, on terrestrial and cable channels, do not care for a week to go by without India playing a one-day international somewhere, if not in a Test country then in Dubai or Dhaka. (Kapil Dev is about to clock up 200 one-dayers.) And whereas 250,000 spectators were estimated to have watched the four days of the Bombay Test in 1933-34, it will be a gratifying surprise if the whole of the coming Test series attracts as many.

Another difference between then and now is that a neutral umpire was employed on Jardine's tour: the old Australian all- rounder Frank Tarrant, who was coaching in India. The other umpire was Bill Hitch, who as a former Surrey pro and colleague of Jardine's might not have always been able to keep the England captain in his place.

But perhaps the most important feature of the tour which begins tomorrow is that it will last only three months, against the six months - including sailing time - of England's first Test tour. By the time they finish off in Sri Lanka England will have had exactly the right amount of winter cricket, which is both a preparation and an end in itself.

Across the other side of the world, meanwhile, Australia are being flogged into the ground by their administrators. They have already had a three-Test series in Sri Lanka; they are currently engaged in a five-Test series against West Indies, no rest cure; and they have three more Tests in New Zealand, not to mention a gut-full of one- dayers, before they reach England for next summer's six-Test series. Provided England stay in one piece this winter, it matters relatively little what they do: for so long as Australia do not unearth a strike bowler to support Craig McDermott, I believe England have already begun the process of winning the Ashes.

(Photograph omitted)