Cricket: Smith looks for opening offers

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FOR someone who grew up overseas, Robin Smith's international career has been ridiculously lop- sided in favour of England's green and seaming land. The South African-born batsman began this tour averaging nearly 60 in adopted-home Tests and 35 away.

Two months in India later, nothing has changed in terms of figures, Smith making 146 runs in six innings, but he does believe he has discovered a way to salvation.

Many young westerners come to India just for this sort of thing and Smith appropriately revealed it close to where Gautama Buddha was travelling when he attained enlightenment. Twenty- five centuries on, Smith's revelation is rather more mundane but still of long-term significance to English cricket.

The 29-year-old opened England's innings in the Madras Test in the absence of prawn-affected Graham Gooch. He did so again in the one-day international in Bangalore and was due for repeat acts in the fourth one-dayer here today and the remaining two.

So far he has scored 17, 56 and 29 in the role and looked far more comfortable than going in lower down when the spinners come on.

He knows it, too. Speaking in this steel city, he of the blacksmith's forearms and iron nerve said: 'I enjoy taking on fast bowling and opening appeals to me as you get out there straight away. I get nervous before I bat but that disappears in the middle.'

The obvious problem with Smith's desire is that England already have three openers, one of whom is the captain. Not that Smith is joining the ranks of those who regard Gooch as a lame-duck captain.

'I hope Graham is around this summer and am happy to bat in the middle order if selected. But I see opening as an option for the future and certainly for next winter's tour of the West Indies.'

While a failure to play spin is hardly the basis for a career as an opener the idea has some merit, especially for next winter. It will not appeal to Michael Atherton, who is already condemned for this match to sharing duties with Phil Tufnell as the injured Bob Bennett's wheelchair pusher back in Bangalore.

Not that the trio have missed too many scenic delights here. The ground is overlooked by the steelworks smokestacks of the Tata company that owns and runs the town. The stacks belch out more colours than are available in a West End hair salon but the overall effect is oddly attractive, silhouetting the ground against a kaleidoscope of colours like a moving Turner seascape.

It will be filled with 25,000 today, which is a fraction of those who wanted tickets. The resurgence of interest in Indian cricket is one consolation for England's poor tour.

ENGLAND (from): R A Smith, A J Stewart (wkt), G A Hick, M W Gatting, N H Fairbrother, G A Gooch (capt), C C Lewis, D A Reeve, P A J DeFreitas, P W Jarvis, D E Malcolm, J E Emburey.

England A face defeat,

New Zealand crushed, page 27