APART from illness (even the poor old physio is now confined to bed) England's most regular companion since this Test series began has been embarrassment, and no one has a more acute case at the moment than the England bowler who a few weeks ago proferred the following observation on Vinod Kambli. 'We've got this bloke sussed,' he said. 'We can get him out any time we like.'
England's preferred time here yesterday was midway through the afternoon session, which, given the fact that Kambli had been batting for seven minutes short of 10 hours, and the scoreboard was indicating 563 for 7, represented a somewhat curious tactical plan.
England had clearly decided that it was a good idea to keep Kambli at the crease - they even dropped him twice - until they decided to get rid of him, just as they pleased of course, for the piffling matter of 224 runs. As this was only 20 short of the tourists' first-innings deficit, we can only conclude that they like a challenge.
This has been a curious third Test match, in that it still had a detectable heartbeat after four days' play on a pitch that, even in a country where it would be a better idea to equip their vehicles with caterpillar tracks rather than low- profile radials, began life looking as though it required 'Road Up' signs at either end.
The ball has done everything bar turn cartwheels on occasions, and yet not only did Kambli become India's highest individual scorer against England (and get within 13 of their highest against anyone) but even Philip Tufnell batted on it for 83 minutes. Lack of pace has been one aid to survival, but another inference to be drawn is that the spin bowlers on either side have not performed with any great distinction.
Last night, in fact, it was the medium pace of Manoj Prabhakar that plunged England into their latest crisis, and given that England are not exactly short of practice in this department, they managed to retrieve (not without a close shave or two along the way) 34 for 3 into 108 for 3 by stumps.
For most of the day, however, it was once again an exercise in wondering whether there is as little point in England taking spinners to India as it will be to the Caribbean next winter. For India to make almost 600 on this surface was little short of laughable, and England's game plan yesterday revolved more around trying to waste time than getting people out. On the 15 overs per hour ratio, India were eight short of their quota by the time they were all out, although in England's defence, it is harder to maintain a decent over-rate when you are waiting for someone in the crowd to throw back the ball.
Tufnell was brisk enough, largely because the ball came cannoning back into play from the advertising hoardings, but when John Emburey was bowling, the private contest between India's batsmen to become the first to launch his own satellite reached an exciting climax with a late entry from two tail-enders.
Before yesterday, Navjot Sidhu was well ahead both in quantity (10 sixes) and in distance (fifth row of the Bombay press box) but he and Rajesh Chauhan, who propelled consecutive balls a long way into the crowd after lunch, were pipped by Anil Kumble, who hit one an enormous distance over long-on and on to the stadium roof. When Emburey was promptly taken off for Tufnell, and watched Kumble and Chauhan immediately caught slogging consecutive balls off his Middlesex team-mate to deep midwicket, it just about summed up his tour.
Emburey, who in fairness was struggling with a rib muscle injury on his pivoting side, has now conceded 17 sixes since he got here, and taking two wickets yesterday may not have been a huge consolation. When Phillip DeFreitas caught Kapil Dev off him in the gully, in fact, Emburey's handshake was probably accompanied by something not too dissimilar to: 'Thanks Daffy, but I'd have preferred it had you caught Kambli for 185 runs less than he's got at the moment.'
Emburey's purple patch of two wickets in three balls followed 337 fruitless deliveries, and it also coincided with England sparking off a major Indian collapse - or as major as collapses ever go when they begin at 560 for 5. The one bright spot was Chris Lewis, whose big-hearted bowling here removed a lot of question marks about his appetite in adversity.
No one deserved Kambli's wicket more than he did (to a fine diving catch at backward point by Mike Gatting) and it certainly vindicated England's theory that the 21-year-old left-hander is a total sucker outside his off stump. Kambli, having succumbed so often to the bait that he has only cobbled together 487 runs against the tourists at an average of 121.75, would have to agree that his Achilles' heel has been well and truly rumbled.
When England went in again, after 13 hours and seven minutes in the field, they would hardly have been in the most resilient frame of mind, although no one reckoned on Prabhakar making such a mess of their early batting, beginning with Alec Stewart's wicket just before tea.
Stewart's reaction to being given out lbw was, not for the first time, the sort you would expect from someone whose posterior has just come into contact with an electrified cattle fence, which the replay did little to vindicate. Michael Atherton had more reason to look shocked, edging to slip after the ball took off from a length, and while Gooch was deceived by a slower ball that cut back to take middle stump, it was the shot of a man who looks wearier by the day.
Gatting should have been caught when an edge off Venkatapathy Raju bisected the wicketkeeper and slip, and had there been a third umpire in this series, Gatting would have been run out dawdling over a second run. Even by his standards of daft dismissals, this would very nearly have taken the biscuit.
Top marks for Lathwell, page 31
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