Cricket: Problems grow for England and Emburey: Tour of India / Form continues to prove elusive for Gooch's batsmen and bowlers as hosts pile on the humiliation on and off the field

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IT IS a toss-up which is in the bigger mess in India at the moment, the itinerary or the England team. In the former instance, they don't know where they are going, and in the latter, they don't know what they are doing.

After yesterday's hapless performance against an Indian Board's President's XI, Graham Gooch radiated a glower last seen in Lucknow, when an Indian journalist innocently asked him: 'Would you not be better off with Mr Gower in the team?'

As for the tour manager, the warm and friendly smile with which Bob Bennett set off three weeks ago has now been replaced by a kind of sickly, pasted-on grin, and the eyes are beginning to glaze over. This is the inevitable fate for anyone trying to get things done in India, and Bennett's head has already been in contact with enough brick walls to justify calling for a helmet.

At four o'clock yesterday afternoon, Bennett's final deadline after two days of haggling about whether Saturday's cancelled one- day international at Ahmadabad could take place at another venue (ideally here), he finally discovered that England had been as comprehensively defeated off the field as they had been on it.

The Indian Board secretary, Changappa Nagrai, confirmed his insistence on a rearranged date (England favour Madras on 6 March) without, apparently, offering any reason why Saturday was a non-starter. However, it is almost beyond doubt that the Indian Board wants the extra time to rearrange TV and sponsorship.

As is the case everywhere, television runs the game nowadays. Sky TV, meanwhile, will be filling their Saturday with a mixture of Muscle Night, a great attraction for all bodybuilding fans, PGA golf from Hawaii and a previously shown documentary on the 1992 World Cup.

As for England, they have been offered nothing more than a practice match tomorrow, on the same ground as yesterday's one- day game, against an eleven cobbled together by the former Indian captain and artful slow left- armer, Bishen Bedi. Bennett said that Bedi had promised him 'good opposition', which goes to show that the manager's well of blind faith has not yet dried up completely.

In any event, on the evidence of yesterday's nine-wicket defeat, good opposition may be the last thing England require. The middle-order batsmen can barely scrape a run between them, the fielding fell apart yesterday, and they have only three bowlers in any sort of nick. Paul Jarvis and Paul Taylor, both mildly controversial selections, and Ian Salisbury, who was not even chosen with this tour in mind.

England may have added Salisbury to the squad, but no such luxury exists when it comes to batsmen. Neil Fairbrother was in long enough yesterday to confirm that he is in horrible form, and if Robin Smith and Graeme Hick have any idea of how to play the Indian spinners, they are doing a good job of keeping it well hidden.

Gooch himself is in pleasing form, and Alec Stewart also looked in touch for the first time yesterday, but once Gooch was bowled attempting to force the pace against the off-spinner, Rajesh Chauhan, a probable total of around 280-290 disappeared with three wickets for three runs in the space of three overs.

Mike Gatting, the only batsman apart from Gooch to look impressive so far, ran himself out, and from 169 for 2 with 15 overs remaining, England would have made an even lower total than 245 from their allotted 50 overs but for some enterprising improvisation from Dermot Reeve and John Emburey.

Emburey, however, is not here for his batting, and as a key figure in England's one-day strategy, he is perhaps the biggest of all the various worries the tourists have right now.

This is a dangerous country at the moment, but few people are in greater danger of injury than India's cricket spectators while Emburey is bowling.

Unusually for a spinner, Emburey is often employed in the latter overs of a one-day game, and when he returned for his second spell yesterday, the Board XI required a tricky 69 runs off the final 10 overs. Three balls later, this requirement had been reduced by 16, as Ajay Sharma struck Emburey for 6, 6 and 4. Navjot Sidhu, who hit him for eight sixes in Lucknow, then made it nine, and it was game set and match.

Sidhu, who is certain to play in the one-day international series, and Sharma, who is not in the squad, put on an unbroken 172 together in 26 overs, and Sidhu's 130 also contained two more sixes, off Reeve and DeFreitas.

As for the fielding, it varied between the ordinary and the indescribable, and the nadir came when Gatting dropped Sidhu at midwicket, recovered to throw to the bowler's end with Sharma yards out of his ground, only for DeFreitas to let the ball through his hands.

Gooch said afterwards that England had 'not performed up to standard in any department', which was putting it kindly, and then announced that the team would be having its first day off of the tour. To the workaholic captain, this probably qualifies as punishment.

(Photograph omitted)