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Cricket: Shoot-out in Dodge City for England's spinners

THIS is not quite a kiss-me-quick hat and toffee apples stall on the promenade town, but the flight from Smog City to the geographical equivalent of Mablethorpe has certainly left England's cricketers breathing sighs of relief. For the past 10 days or so, the mere act of breathing has left the players less in need of a physiotherapist than a chimney sweep.

However, England's Orient Express having been so emphatically derailed in Calcutta, this is no time to be idly sniffing the ozone. All of a sudden, a match originally identified as a weekend break on India's mid-eastern coast assumes the proportions of a crucial Test trial.

Appropriately enough for this venue (the town centre resembles Dodge City circa 1840), the match against the Rest of India boils down to a shoot-out between England's three specialist spinners for the second Test in Madras next week.

Keith Fletcher, the team manager, came as close as he has so far to admitting that the tourists misread the pitch in Calcutta by saying: 'If conditions are similar in Madras, we will probably go for a more balanced (two spinners) side.' This would be more comforting if England had a better track record of identifying what a pitch might do before the game rather than after it.

Madras, though, is expected to be as spinner-friendly as Calcutta and another intriguing Test is in prospect. Unless Philip Tufnell has a poor game here, he is almost certain to play in Madras, but for all his heroics with the bat, Ian Salisbury did not bowl well enough at Eden Gardens to entirely rule out a challenge from John Emburey.

Fletcher's problems do not end with identifying his best spin bowlers, in that it was the batsmen's first-innings ineptitude against the Indian slow bowlers that effectively cost them the the first Test. Fletcher lamented yesterday that England pitches are neither conducive to producing spinners nor batsmen who can play them properly - a discovery that could have been slightly better timed than 1-0 down in a three- Test series in India.

'We need good pitches in county cricket,' Fletcher said, 'and by that I don't mean wickets that are merely good for batting. Our game needs conditions that assist slow bowlers. Not only is it of more interest to spectators, but if we are not careful the day will come when we don't have any spinners left.'

England included both Richard Blakey and Dermot Reeve in their 12 to give them a chance of cricket in what would otherwise be a totally inactive month. Alec Stewart, Mike Gatting and Chris Lewis get the game off before the back-to-back Tests in Madras and Bombay.

The Indian side here is being captained (for the first time in a first-class match) by the 19-year- old Sachin Tendulkar, and the home selectors clearly have him in mind as Mohammad Azharuddin's successor. Before Calcutta, Tendulkar might have had the captaincy thrust upon him already, but as is often the way in India, Azharuddin, on the strength of one victory, has gone from someone busy ordering brick- proof double-glazing for his house, to candidate for prime minister.

ENGLAND 12: G A Gooch (capt), M A Atherton, R A Smith, N H Fairbrother, G A Hick, D A Reeve, R J Blakey (wkt), P A J DeFreitas, J E Emburey, I D K Salisbury, D E Malcolm, P C R Tufnell.

REST OF INDIA (from): S R Tendulkar (capt), W V Raman, A Kuresia, S V Manjrekar, J Paranjpe, V Yadav (wkt), V Prasad, A Padmanathan, A Kapoor, U Chatterjee, S Ankola, A W Zaidi, M Sridar, B Singh.

Shirt success, England A, page 31