Cricket: Third Test: Fletcher urges Gooch to stay at the helm: India complete series whitewash with another innings victory as England captain casts doubt over his international future

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England 347 and 229

India 591

India win by an innings and 15 runs

SO much for the adage about the survival of the fittest; those who felt beforehand that 3-0 would be an appropriate rejoinder to the concept of sweat before style may now be raising a glass to a collection of physical jerks. Whether or not England were well prepared for this Test series, they were not half as well prepared as the Indian pitches.

However, even if the work-fun balance has now tipped too far the other way, those who remember the vaudeville act masquerading as a team when David Gower was last in charge will at least concede that a change of emphasis was badly needed, and it will not improve England's prospects of regaining the Ashes this summer if the man who brought a bit of steel back to the side is now contemplating falling on his sword.

Graham Gooch is a proud man, and while this experience has not left him quite as depressed as he was when England also lost 3-0 in Australia two winters ago, in the aftermath of defeats by eight wickets, an innings and 22 runs, and, yesterday, an innings and 15 runs in the third Test here, he would not rule out quitting as England captain before the new season begins.

Gooch will in any event hand over his badge, albeit on a temporary basis, to Alec Stewart for the Sri Lankan leg of this tour, and the fact that he is returning home after the conclusion of the one-day series in India is evidence enough that he only made this one last trip overseas in deference to his old Essex mentor, Keith Fletcher. As Fletcher's record as team manager now stands at played three, lost three, Gooch will feel - unreasonably - that he has let him down.

Fletcher's own disappointment has clearly not made him any less inclined to um and ah when the fertiliser hits the fan, as was his predecessor's chosen method, and his reaction to the selectors ditching Gooch was: 'We would have to be bloody stupid.' Fletcher added: 'We have got to start thinking about beating Australia, and Graham is the best man for the job.'

Gooch, clearly, is not so sure. When asked whether he might be contemplating his future as England captain, he said: 'You've got to think about it, haven't you? We've just lost 3-0 and although I feel I've given as much as I can give, as captain you feel responsible. We played very poorly, there's no hiding from that, and while there have been one or two individual plus points, collectively we have not been good enough.'

Collectively, it is probably fair to say, England have been pretty near hopeless. No sooner had they arrived at the point yesterday when it looked as though they had a half- way decent chance of saving the match, and some pride, they disintegrated even more rapidly than the pitch.

Robin Smith and Mike Gatting extended their fourth-wicket partnership beyond the morning drinks interval, but as soon as a liaison that had realised 121 runs in two and a half hours was fractured, England's last seven wickets evaporated - to the customary cacophony of whistles, bugles and firecrackers - for 74 runs in 24 overs.

India's spinners dished up a fair amount of rubbish and there were plenty of boundaries on offer for Smith and Gatting through an attacking field. However, this was not a pitch on which a new batsman could settle in comfortably, and, apart from Graeme Hick, no one did.

Gatting was first to go, jumping far enough out of his crease to Rajesh Chauhan's off-spinner to allow Kiran More a protracted fumble before stumping him, and when Anil Kumble turned a leg- break to hit Smith's off stump, the finger was well and truly out of the dyke.

Quite why Richard Blakey still came in ahead of Chris Lewis was not easy to fathom, although there was precious little time for debating the matter, as Blakey was out first ball, groping at thin air for Kumble's top spinner for the third consecutive innings. Blakey, included in the squad for his batting ability, recorded scores of 0, 6, 1, and 0 in this series, and his wicketkeeping has been nowhere near as good as Fletcher claimed at yesterday's post-mortem.

It would be nice to think that England have now learned their lesson in this department, although the error-free Ted Dexter will doubtless concern himself with more important topics before next winter's selection, such as Caribbean smog reports. What is even more puzzling is that Alec Stewart did not keep wicket in either of the last two Test matches, purely because either Stewart, England, or both, wanted him to open the batting. England might have had some bad luck on this tour, but few sides have deserved bad luck more thoroughly than they have.

England, 198 for 6 at lunch, were in little danger of obliging the caterers to lay the table for tea, and Hick's dismissal - to what appeared to be a bogus catch off the pad to short leg - was game, set and match. It ended with Phillip DeFreitas blazing away at Venkatapathy Raju, the upshot of which was four, six, stumped.

Kumble's 4 for 70 took his total of wickets in the series to 21 (average 19.8), although given the nature of the pitches here, combined with England's impoverished batting, the turn of the century will still arrive, sadly, with leg-spinners who have decided Test series arriving at their annual dinner in the back of the same taxi.

Gooch, casting ahead to the one-day series resuming in Bangalore on Friday, said that England's spirit was not quite what it was two months ago, but that it was good enough to keep them focused. 'If you win, you're a hero, and if you lose, you're a villain. We'd like to leave India with a hero's win or two.'

As for the original selection, particularly the omissions of Gower and Jack Russell, he said: 'We've all got different ideas about selection, and I still stand by the squad we brought here.' Not so many people are standing next to him on this subject, but on the captaincy issue, they should be. With Australia on the way, no Gooch in the officer's mess equates to quite a different kind of mess.

ENGLAND ITINERARY: 26 Feb: Third one-day international v India (Bangalore); 1 Mar: Fourth one-day international (Jamshedpur); 4 Mar: Fifth one-day international (Gwalior); 5 Mar: Sixth one-day international (Gwalior); 10 Mar: First one-day international v Sri Lanka (Colombo); 13 Mar: TEST (Colombo); 20 Mar: Second one-day international (Moratuwa).

No place for Essex man, page 19

Lara scuttles South Africa, page 38

(Photograph omitted)

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