WHETHER or not England have the stomach for a fight in this Test match rather depends on whether they have a stomach left to fight with. A tour to India has more than a little to do with runs, and while England's were largely confined to the hotel bathroom yesterday, India were busy piling on theirs out in the middle.
India's 275 for 2 was even more formidable than the 263 for 4 they racked up on the opening day in Calcutta. There have already been signs of a beautiful batting pitch offering turn for the spinners later in the game, and if England's dining arrangements last night mostly revolved around food for thought, it would not have been entirely due to the cricket.
Food from the hotel's Chinese restaurant was certainly off the agenda, given that two of England's three sickness casualties yesterday - Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting - are thought to have succumbed to something on its spicy menu. With Gatting at the dining table, the offending dishes have been narrowed down to prawns, lobster, crab, pork, chicken, beef, beansprouts, spring rolls . . .
Before play began, Gooch, who had been up half the night with diarrhoea and dizzy spells, was (in every sense) out of the game. By lunchtime, Gatting and Robin Smith were both back at the hotel with him. Mike Atherton, who could not get a place in the side even when Gooch withdrew, was in the dressing-room with sickness of the parrot variety, and Chris Lewis was limited to 11 overs because of an ankle strain.
Ordinarily, this would have been a bad toss to lose, although with so many batsmen hors de combat, it was perhaps just as well. With Gooch and Gatting absent, Alec Stewart, thrust into his first Test as captain, could have done without the resultant shortage of greying, stubbly wisdom, and there were periods when it appeared that his employment of the spinners might have had more to do with trying to avoid an over-rate fine than any cunning cerebral plan.
It was a difficult enough day to be bowling. Even though a stiffish breeze relieved some of Madras's oppressive humidity, the downside of this was that it wafted a fearfully noxious smell from the open sewers across the stadium, and anyone not feeling 100 per cent, which was just about everyone, would not have felt any better for the less than alluring scent of eau de toilet.
Neither would morale have been lifted by the outbreak of illness, which resulted in Bob Bennett, the tour manager, requesting assistance from a semi-retired doctor from Pontefract, who had just arrived with a party of English holidaymakers. His prescription for Gooch, Gatting and Smith presumably included keeping the television turned off. The scoreboard made depressing enough viewing, and one thing England did not need yesterday was a ground with three of them.
Unlike Calcutta, with its low bounce, this pitch was perfect for playing off either foot, and there was a high premium for straying in length. As is often the way when a side is in disarray, the luck also ran against England, and on another day, Sachin Tendulkar might have been adjudged run out for 9 rather than reprieved to make 70 not out.
On the other hand, Lewis's fine delivery to remove Manoj Prabhakar with the score at 41 might have been the limit of England's success had Vinod Kambli - following a second-wicket partnership of 108 in 31 overs with Navjot Sidhu - not played all around a straight ball from Graeme Hick.
Hick was the best of England's three spinners, which is a comment in itself. When Philip Tufnell is not overstepping the line in matters of etiquette, he is unhappily doing it with his front foot, and being constantly called for no-balls yesterday prevented him from dropping into any sort of rhythm.
Ian Salisbury was innocuous, which is the one thing a leg-spinner should never be, and when Sidhu and Tendulkar came together in mid-afternoon, the rest of the day was merely a quiet exercise in milking the bowling, punctuated by the occasional burst of Tendulkar's genius. When this 19-year-old is in the mood, the men against boys adage works in reverse.
Tendulkar's back-foot driving and square cutting were copybook, but while Sidhu was far less watchable, England could scarcely have made his third Test match century any easier. Sidhu may have struck 14 sixes already on this tour, but Tufnell's posting of a long on and a long off before bowling a single ball to him, was the equivalent of a boxer throwing in the towel during the MC's introduction.
The one bright spot, given that England had enough subs on the field for a periscope to be raised over their dressing-room rather than the flag of St George, was the fielding, despite the customary ostentation from Dermot Reeve, who, with a short skirt and pom-poms, would be good to have on the sidelines for the Chicago Bears. Richard Blakey, preferred to Atherton on the grounds that it was too much to ask Stewart to captain and keep wicket, also did a tidy job.
England managed to keep the rate down to three an over, although restricting Sidhu to 453 runs so far on tour (average 90) hardly represents a triumph. Just before the close, Sidhu acknowledged his hundred by removing his helmet to reveal a light blue turban, the Sikh having long since consigned England to their sick bed.
David Millns, the Leicestershire fast bowler, has a damaged Achilles and misses England A's four-day game against the Australian Academy, starting on Sunday in Melbourne.
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