Cricket: Kambli's rare talent bewitches England: Third Test / Dropped catches and a pair of precocious Indian batsmen combine to frustrate a touring team showing wear and tear

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The Independent Online
England 347 India 397-3

IN MADRAS, it was Sachin Tendulkar who collected the individual gong, and with Vinod Kambli placing a substantial deposit on this one in the Wankhede dustbowl during the third Test here yesterday, the sponsors may have to consider renaming it the boy of the match award. As for England, the old age etched deep on their faces has more to do with their cricket than the wrinkled-prune effect of the Indian sun.

On a pitch that Philip Tufnell and John Emburey would like to roll up and take back home to Lord's, England managed two wickets in a day that ran past the scheduled six hours into overtime. This was largely because of a pitch invasion to greet Kambli's century, and a further hiatus when Phillip DeFreitas was hit on the back of the head by a battery - transistor radio type rather than car. But for India managing only 253 runs in the day, it would have been a clear case of assault and battery.

A full house of 45,000 produced the customary quota of bedlam, but while England's boundary fielders were not too put off by the fusillade of paper aeroplanes and empty plastic bottles flying over the perimeter fencing, DeFreitas did take umbrage at an object possibly thrown by someone wondering whether Graham Gooch needed it for recharging his pacemaker.

The problem was solved by Mike Gatting volunteering to switch places, which was either a selfless gesture, or (given the Indians' propensity for throwing fruit and vegetables) England's premier trencher-man spotting the chance of a free snack.

There was reason enough, as it happens, for DeFreitas not to have been on the boundary in the first place. In mid-morning, almost immediately after Tufnell had had Navjot Sidhu caught at silly point, the best known example of an Indian crowd getting a taste of their own medicine in the missile department - Emburey bowling to an Indian batsman - resulted in a skied catch to DeFreitas at long-off.

DeFreitas, whose initial concern at the proximity of the boundary line did not correspond to his being a good six yards the right side of it, got into a poor position, and in the end the ball bounced off his upraised hands and ran away for four. Emburey's own hands, not surprisingly, made a far better job of clutching his head.

Kambli, at this stage, was only 39, and it was the thick end of five hours before England were to take another wicket. During this period, they also missed Kambli again (on 119) when Gooch spilled a straightforward offering at first slip. Gooch's reflexes in this position are nothing like they used to be, and he had as miserable a day as DeFreitas, whose first and third overs with the second new ball cost him 29 runs.

There are also grounds for suspicion that Gooch's hands are becoming more suspect when he comes to writing down names at selection. DeFreitas had no obvious form to speak of before this game, and in another form of business, Paul Jarvis might have brought an action for wrongful dismissal.

Furthermore, while Gooch's constant summit meetings with Emburey were the understandable result of England getting nowhere on a pitch where 15 wickets in a day, never mind two, would not have been surprising, at hardly any stage did the spinners do away with two short-legs. In the end, Gatting volunteering to shed the helmet and swap with DeFreitas might also have been through the tedium of spending all day sitting on an imaginary shooting-stick.

It is well enough known that Kambli and Tendulkar once shared a schoolboy partnership of 664, and on this tour England have found them nigh on inseparable as batsmen as well as chums. They have batted together three times so far, and this was the first time that England have managed to part them. They put on an unbeaten 165 in the first one-day international, steered India home in the first Test, and yesterday's liaison realised 194 before Tufnell caught Tendulkar on the back foot with one which turned off a perfect length.

Less well known about these two is their widely differing backgrounds. Kambli (who at 21 to Tendulkar's 19 could amost be described as a late developer by Indian standards) was raised in a slum, and belongs to the breed of unfortunates formerly known here as 'untouchables'.

Renaming them 'dalits' is purely cosmetic (like renaming Chernobyl 'Lilacwater-by-the- Sea' in the hope that people might start queuing up to buy timeshare cottages) and India's caste system is still working well enough to make Kambli's arrival in Test cricket a rarity. When he was growing up in Bombay, he used to travel to his cricket matches in the luggage compartments of suburban trains, but nowadays, there is scarcely a maharaja in India who would not send a carriage round to invite him to the palace for tea.

More oddly, another rarity in Indian cricket is a class left- handed batsman, and Kambli's century yesterday was the first by an Indian left-hander since Surinder Amarnath 17 years ago. Amarnath's was not made on anything like as difficult a pitch as this, although the bowlers might not have been as accommodating as England's were yesterday either.

The turn was slow, admittedly, but there was a distressing lack of variety about the spinners, and a net return of 3 for 289 from 110 overs last night was verging on the unbelievable. Kambli and Tendulkar were, however, a class double act, and the fact that the crowd were also celebrating the first Test for both in their native city perhaps made it understandable that one of England's headaches resulted from a heavy-duty Ever Ready.

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