Lucknow's afternoon traffic is chaotic at the best of times, never mind when cricket balls start bouncing between the bullock carts and motor-rickshaws, and England's bowlers were disappearing for nearly five runs per over when two consecutive deliveries from Chris Lewis spared them from what was threatening to be a day of total embarrassment. Lewis, who has a habit of knocking over (in a literal sense) the opposition, first sent Vinod Kambli off to hospital with what was first thought to be a broken forearm, but was later diagnosed as bruising severe enough to rule him out for a week, and with his next delivery Lewis forced Ajay Sharma to retire hurt with a damaged finger.
Before that over, which required so much medical attention that it lasted 16 minutes, the President's XI had rattled from 1 for 1 to 105 for 1 in 84 minutes, and John Emburey was beginning to wonder whether his new life as a spinner of flight and loop might have been a ghastly mistake.
Emburey's first four overs cost him 33 runs, including five sixes over the pavilion at long-on. The left-handed Kambli hit the first, Navjot Sidhu then struck him for four more, and it was not until his fifth over, the first ball of which had Sidhu poking a low catch to short leg, that Emburey managed to bowl six consecutive balls without one of them being propelled from the arena. Neither would Emburey have been best pleased after his sixth over, when the public address announcer congratulated him on a maiden.
Lewis, who had Sarindra Bhave well caught by Alec Stewart with his first delivery, was no more than moderately lively on a pitch with the colour of concrete, but a pace which suggested the concrete had not yet set. Kambli had few inhibitions about clambering into Lewis, and had struck 10 fours and a six until he ducked away from a shortish ball that failed to get up.
Kambli is the 20-year-old who once partnered Sachin Tendulkar in an Indian schoolboy partnership of 664. He is a voracious driver and cutter, but you would be hard- pressed to describe his defensive technique, as he does not appear to bother with one.
If, as is being suggested out here, the Indian selectors are of a mood to consign their current crop of batsmen to a back-numbers file, Kambli would certainly be under consideration, as indeed would Lewis's second victim yesterday. Sharma, who gave England almost as severe a going-over in Faridabad, was more fortunate than Kambli, and was able to resume his innings later in the day.
Given the dramatic fall in attendances in anything other than one-day cricket in India, it was heartening to see 20,000 people inside the Babu Stadium yesterday. Less heartening is the thought that many may not be bothering to come back after failing to receive their rupees-worth from two umpires whose curious idea of what constitutes bad light deprived them of 37 overs' play.
If you think that a thermal underwear salesman in northern India at this time of year would be having a thin time of it, you would be wrong. It was snowing and hailing not too far north of here, and it was a bit like Buxton in April in Lucknow yesterday. However, the weather that caused three separate delays was more man-made than natural - a veil of smog that hangs over most Indian towns.
It was certainly hazy enough to have some sympathy with a delayed start, but the second hold-up before lunch was more mystifying than mistifying, and prompted Keith Fletcher to go scuttling off for an explanation. None was forthcoming: because the umpires were nowhere to be found.
The final stoppage was little short of bizarre. Philip Tufnell and Graham Gooch (neither of whom is thought to possess the world's nastiest bouncer) were operating in tandem when the umpires made a third decision to invoke a ruling intended to protect batsmen from physical danger. Gooch lodged a mild protest, possibly on the grounds that the locals can see well enough at night when they all drive around with no lights, but to no avail.
So here we had the first first- class match involving a touring side in Lucknow since 1952, a sizeable crowd, visibility that would not have blotted out Calais from the white cliffs of Dover, and no cricket. No wonder attendances are down. Lord's would have been knee-deep in cushions.
Tufnell bowled much better yesterday, although scarcely weakening the argument for retaining Ian Salisbury in a 17-man squad. Happily, England still have all 17 fit and well, despite sending Richard Blakey, Paul Jarvis and Dermot Reeve back to Delhi by train to play some club cricket. Four people died when a terrorist bomb exploded on a Delhi train on Wednesday, and although the England trio made it safely enough, it was a nasty reminder of how unstable India is at the moment.
On the subject of instability, the International Cricket Council runs India pretty close, and having decided to trim Gooch's first-class century total from 99 to 98, they are now to reconsider at the AGM on 2 February.
The innings in question was compiled on the unsanctioned 'rebel' tour to South Africa in 1981-82, even though first-class cricket in general during the Republic's ostracism has always been admissable. It comes as no great surprise to learn that the ICC, whose constitution was apparently founded on failing to make decisions, should have decided they were being a touch too hasty the minute they made one.
(First day: President's XI won toss)
PRESIDENT'S XI - First Innings
S S Bahve c Stewart b Lewis1
N S Sidhu c Gatting b Emburey36
V G Kambli retired hurt61
A Sharma not out0
N R Mongia not out45
R Dravid st Stewart b Gooch 27
Extras (b2 lb3 w1 nb2)8
Total (for 3)178
Fall: 1-1 2-105 3-176.
To bat: S A Ankola, R Chauhan, N D Hirwani, P S Viadya, *Maninder Singh.
Bowling (to date): DeFreitas 13-3-37-0; Lewis 11-2- 35-1; Emburey 13-3-44-1; Taylor 6-0-27-0; Tufnell 11-1-29-0; Gooch 2-1-1-1.
ENGLAND: *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.
Umpires: S Venkataraghavan and P D Reporter.
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