Cricket: Gooch set for early starts

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ENGLAND'S winter tour begins in earnest with a three-day match against the Ranji Trophy champions in Faridabad today, but with all the serious business geared initially around three one-day internationals, the players will at least be getting some sort of flavour of pyjama cricket.

Over the next few days, they will be clambering out of bed at 6am for the 50km (31 miles) coach journey to Faridabad from their hotel base in Delhi, a bleary-eyed getaway that has as much to do with the unpredictibility of road travel in India as with the 9.30 start.

This is not a tour for anyone to have much of lie-in, given that the light fades early in India, and most games will begin at not much beyond breakfast time in order to accommodate the six hours per day negotiated by England (the norm in India is five and a half) for their first-class and Test programme.

It will not be of much concern to Graham Gooch, given that the workaholic captain will probably have completed 100 press-ups and a half-marathon before his own alarm goes off, and the rain that caused yesterday's scheduled practice match in Delhi to be cancelled did not result in a day off for the players. The morning was spent doing physical jerks in the hotel's conference centre, and when the sun came out at lunchtime, they repaired outdoors for a session of sprints and fielding practice.

The fact that there are only two first-class games before the first one-day international in Ahmadabad a fortnight today, means that not everyone may be guaranteed to play before then, and today's team dropped an ominous hint to two players that their appearances in the middle may be limited.

Paul Taylor, the Northamptonshire left-arm seamer, and Richard Blakey, the reserve wicketkeeper, were both omitted from the XI, and Gooch admitted that the early build-up period was too short to guarantee a game for everyone. The other two players left out were Robin Smith, who is injured, and Chris Lewis, who is a near-certainty for the one-day side.

'With three one-dayers coming before the Test series, our priority is to build towards those,' Gooch said yesterday, 'and we can't be sure that everyone will have played in the first two games. The preparation time is short, and seems to getter shorter on every tour.

'We were disappointed to lose Saturday's practice match in the middle, but generally speaking the preparation has gone very well, and the facilities in Delhi have been excellent.'

ENGLAND 12 (v Delhi) *G A Gooch, M A Atherton, A J Stewart, M W Gatting, G A Hick, N H Fairbrother, D A Reeve, J E Emburey, P A J DeFreitas, P W Jarvis, P C R Tufnell, D E Malcolm.