Cricket: Hick rediscovers his cutting edge

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ENGLAND enjoyed the novel experience of winning a match here yesterday, although match is probably far too grand a title for what was little more than an outdoor net, and neither is a two-wicket victory with two balls to spare calculated to strike terror into the opposition before next week's one-day internationals.

The team cobbled together by Bishen Bedi to give England some more practice after the cancellation of the Ahmadabad international contained no fewer than 15 players, who popped on and off more or less as they pleased, and Kapil Dev appeared as a batsman only.

No one knew this (including his own captain) until the mid-innings break, when Kapil left a note in the dressing-room to say that he had gone home for lunch and would not be coming back.

As for the crowd, it was roughly on a par with what you would get for one of those arctic Benson and Hedges zonal games in April, thin enough for the middle-aged western lady sitting on a fold-up chair on one of the terraces to look highly conspicuous.

This was Marion Reeve, mother of Dermot, who travels all round the world from her home in Hong Kong to watch her boy play cricket. With all due respect to Reeve, handy all-round cricketer though he is, you would have to be a blood relation to turn up specifically to watch him anywhere, let alone a practice match in the uniquely ugly Ferozshah Kotla Stadium, Delhi.

The game itself just about served its purpose, without telling us much more than we knew already, and Graeme Hick at least got the feel of bat on ball with an innings of 93 that contained five sixes. However, he might just as well have hit five sixes facing a couple of overs from John Emburey in the nets, and the quality of the bowling - Maninder Singh excepted - was at best dubious.

Robin Smith, who went in first with captain for the day, Alec Stewart, smashed four fours in one over from one of the local medium pacers, but Smith's qualities against this type of bowler are not in doubt. No sooner was he exposed to a spinner, a left-armer with an action that belonged to a welly-whanging contest, than he prodded back a low return catch. Smith, in particular, looks so uneasy against spin, that England might be better off opening with him in the one-dayers.

England's own two spinners yesterday, Ian Salisbury and Philip Tufnell, were comfortably the pick of the bowlers, and Tufnell's delivery to Gautam Vadeva, which turned sharply to have him stumped by Richard Blakey, was further evidence that he has finally located his rhythm.

Blakey kept wicket better than he batted, but at least he got out on to the field for reasons other than ferrying out drinks and fresh pairs of batting gloves. Blakey, though, is philosphical about his inevitable role as the tour's Lord Lucan. 'At Yorkshire, I've never been sat on my arse for long periods,' he said, 'but I'm in good spirits, and you never know. If someone gets sick or injured, I could find myself keeping in a Test match at a few hours' notice.

'To a certain degree, you can go backwards doing little more than netting, and you can lose that match edge. But I'll keep going, and it has crossed my mind that when Graham (Gooch) goes home before Sri Lanka, I might just sneak the Test match there. Alec might keep wicket, of course, but captain, opener and keeper seems a bit of a handful to me.

'I'm the first to admit that I lack experience on difficult pitches, and there were times last season when I did not have the experience to cope with certain types of bowling. However, I think I have now reached a good standard of wicketkeeping, and I'm the sort of bloke who will keep working at getting better. My actual aim is to become the best keeper in England.

'I also want to be regarded as a top-order batsman, although it's quite obvious that the quality of the players we have at the moment would not get me into the England side on that alone.'

In fact, England's middle order looks fragile enough against spin for Blakey to become an outside contender for an international place before Sri Lanka, although the team for the first one-dayer in Jaipur on Monday is unlikely to be any different to the one that lost so badly here on Wednesday.

Meantime, England's Under-19 squad have now arrived in India, and were immediately made to feel important by being sent to a hotel in Delhi that did not so much have a sign with five stars hanging outside, as five cockroaches. 'It was an unbelievable place, and appeared to be home for most of the mosquitos in India,' Graham Savile, the coach, said yesterday.

Savile has now had them moved to the senior team's hotel, but even so, the Indian Board was not keen on forking out too much extra cash, and the players are billeted three to a room. Whoever it is at the TCCB who imagines that a one-star hotel in Delhi is the equivalent to a one-star hotel in Derby, should be made to fly over and stay in it himself.