Cricket / Third Test: Emburey's return fortifies old guard

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The Independent Online
JOHN EMBUREY, who has spent more time twiddling his thumbs than twirling his spinning finger on this tour, was yesterday recalled to the England Test side after an absence of three and a half years. What with Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting in the side, one elderly left-handed batsman in the television commentary box will doubtless be wondering whether the tourists' lunches for this third Test match will be dished up by Meals on Wheels.

The 40-year-old Middlesex off- spinner was inked in for a starring role when the squad was selected last September, but before today had sent down only 56 overs on the entire tour for a return of 1 for 241. Furthermore, a good many of those runs have come from such enormous hits, that even David Gower would have thought twice about low-level aerobatics while Emburey was bowling for fear of being shot down.

Gooch's recall for his closest friend (they have been known, like identical twins, to turn up with the same purchases after separate shopping trips) has less to do with sentiment, however, than hard- nosed practicality. Ian Salisbury, who was originally scheduled to join the England A tour in Australia, has failed to produce the goods in his two Test matches here. The Sussex leg-spinner's three wickets for 230 runs having increased his Test average to nine wickets at almost 70 runs apiece.

On the face of it, England's decision to go into this game with seven batsmen smacked of more of an attempt to avoid the embarrassment of a 3-0 defeat rather than a muck or nettles tilt at 2-1, but Gooch has long held the view that Test matches are won by having large totals to bowl at. Historically, however, the safety in numbers policy has rarely come off, and there are at least partial grounds for suspecting that Gooch simply did not know who to drop to accommodate Michael Atherton.

Whether or not England ended up with seven batsmen today, however, once again depended on the usual proviso in this part of the world, namely, all seven reporting fit for duty this morning. Last night, Alec Stewart and Neil Fairbrother were both 'unwell' (neither was up to attending the team meeting) and Richard Blakey was placed on standby for both.

The toughest decision about the bowling line-up this morning was not so much in opting for only two seamers, but whether to go for picking the two (from the three named in the 12) most likely to break down. Paul Jarvis has not exactly had an injury-free career, but you could probably wallpaper a dressing-room with doctor's notes from the combination England were leaning towards last night, Chris Lewis and Phillip DeFreitas.

The fitness record of all England's pace bowlers in recent years makes one wonder whether the old style method of turning up every April with a beer paunch and an enormous posterior might not have been a better idea than all these sprints, weights and press-ups.

Fears that a combination of the live television coverage and India having already won the series would harm the attendance figures here have proved to be ill-founded, and the Bombay Cricket Association is forecasting a profit on the first Test match to be played at the Wankhede Stadium since New Zealand's visit in 1988.

It will not be a large surplus, however, even though the ground's 45,000 capacity is considerably higher than Lord's, where pounds 1m-plus gate receipts have been returned for the past two years. The difference is partly because of expenses (Indian crowds being somewhat more excitable, there are entries on the balance sheet here for 'hire of fire engines' and 'erection of bamboo railings') but most of all because of the vast difference in admission charges.

A day at the Lord's Test will set you back between pounds 15 (for the sort of view that accommodates only the bottom half of a Curtly Ambrose) and pounds 40. Here in India, that sort of money is the equivalent of winning the pools, and seat prices run at pounds 4, pounds 1.70, pounds 1, 60p and 50p.

ENGLAND 12: G A Gooch (capt), A J Stewart (or R J Blakey, wkt), M A Atherton, M W Gatting, R A Smith, N H Fairbrother, G A Hick, C C Lewis, P A J DeFreitas, J E Emburey, P W Jarvis, P C R Tufnell.

John Wright has been called up to add stability to New Zealand's batting for the first of three Test matches against Australia, starting next Thursday in Christchurch.

NEW ZEALAND SQUAD (for first Test v Australia, Christchurch, 25 February): M D Crowe (capt), J G Wright, M J Greatbatch, A H Jones, K R Rutherford, C Z Harris, D N Patel, C L Cairns, A C Parore (wkt), M L Su'a, D K Morrison, M B Owens.