Cricket / Third Test: Hick unravels the Indian spinners' web: England's reluctant hero breaks the shackles as his team-mates fall by the wayside on another turning pitch

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England 239-7 v India

ENGLAND'S physiotherapist has scarcely stopped dipping into his medical bag since this tour began, and it is not unreasonable to suspect that Graeme Hick had him rummaging around for a couple of sleeping pills before heading for his bed after the first day of the third Test here last night. Hick is almost as patient as the people who have kept on picking him for the past two and a half years, but at 99 not out, there was probably more wear and tear on his bedroom carpet than the mattress by the time he drew back the curtains this morning.

For a man used to dealing in telephone numbers, Hick's England career has been more a case of 999 than 99. A naturally shy and self-effacing character, he has become noticeably more introspective as his failures have mounted up, and when he said before the Calcutta Test that he was 'tired of being laughed at', it was as emotional a statement as he has ever made.

Despite having clocked up no fewer than 67 first-class centuries, Hick came into this match with a total of 397 runs in 21 Test innings, and a top score - in Madras - of 64. Neither did it look as though he had much prospect of improving that record here. After the first couple of hours yesterday morning, 99 looked like being a decent total for England never mind Hick.

If there is one thing that the groundsman here cannot be accused of, it is over-preparation of the pitch. India have arrived at the conclusion that England's batsmen are not terribly happy against spin, which is very perceptive of them, and it will be a surprise if a surface not too dissimilar to a stretch of Bombay beach is not more badly potholed than one of the city's sidestreets before the game is over.

In the circumstances, therefore, it was an important toss to win, and England would not have set off yesterday morning regarding a total of even 250 as totally inadequate. However, when they were 58 for 4 shortly before lunch, and 118 for 6 in mid-afternoon, the bookmakers' pre-match quote of 6-1 against an England victory did not look over generous.

England went in, as expected, with seven batsmen, albeit not the seven they had in mind with Richard Blakey drafted in for Neil Fairbrother, the latest victim of the virus that has pursued them around India. No matter, really. Selection on this tour has been so cock-eyed that they might as well let the bugs and germs pick the team for them.

Graham Gooch was clearly unhappy about being adjudged caught behind to Kapil Dev (when Kiran More starts whooping and appealing it is more often a case for the defence than the prosecution) but the fall of the second wicket was the kind of collector's item run- out that would have brought the house down in the last over of a Sunday League game never mind the first morning of a Test match.

Alec Stewart called Michael Atherton for an off-side single to which Atherton half-responded before deciding that Stewart, who had almost missed the game with the same virus as Fairbrother, was probably suffering from delirium. Back he went, but Stewart had up such a head of steam that it was a photo finish as to which one made it into the bowler's crease first.

This adjudication took a long time coming, largely because of the Fred Karno performance going on down at the other end. Sachin Tendulkar's throw was missed by More, parried by Pravin Amre at short leg, and after Amre had given a fair imitation of a man who has lost the soap in the bath, he finally broke the wicket with a direct hit.

Stewart and Atherton, meantime, were both leaning on their bats 22 yards away, and given the rivalry between them, neither felt inclined to move. Eventually, Stewart was deemed to have finished second in the photo, although the strong suspicion is that the umpire fingered the wrong man. Stewart fumed all the way back to the pavilion, which Atherton had the good sense to avoid until the luncheon gong gave him no option.

By that time, Mike Gatting and Robin Smith, two batsmen of whom (for vastly different reasons) it can be said that they normally play spin with their eyes closed, had both fallen to poor strokes against the left-armer Venkatapathy Raju, and with the ball turning appreciably at times, England were in a fearful mess at 58 for 4 when Hick joined Atherton.

It was at this point that the fifth- wicket pair decided that poking around in the crease was not the answer, and they counter-attacked so effectively that they put on 58 in 64 minutes. However, it was probably watching Hick hit over the top that finally undid Atherton. It is not really in his nature, and a fatal change of mind in mid- stroke resulted in a simple catch to mid-on.

Blakey stayed in just long enough to look hopeless before missing Anil Kumble's top spinner, and why he was preferred to Ian Salisbury - who not only offered an extra bowling option, but is also a handy batsman - was yet another addition to the half-baked category of selection in this series.

No batsman could hope to survive on this pitch without some luck, which Hick and Chris Lewis certainly had during their life-saving partnership of 93 for the seventh wicket, but they also reaped the rewards of using their feet to the spinners. To Indian batsmen this is second nature (probably the result of what it takes to cross a road without being mown down in this country) but most of England's problems here have been the result of poor footwork.

Neither was there any reason to alter the view that these Indian spinners are anything other than ordinary. England should have been bowled out for around 150 yesterday, but Hick was able to put away enough dross (mainly long hops) to clock up 10 boundaries. All he had on his mind last night, however, was one single.


(First day: England won toss)

ENGLAND - First Innings

* G A Gooch c More b Kapil Dev. . . . . . .4

27 min, 19 balls

A J Stewart run out (Amre). . . . . . . . .13

57 min, 43 balls, 1 four

M A Atherton c Prabhakar b Kumble. . . . . 37

147 min, 113 balls, 3 fours

R A Smith c More b Venkat Raju. . . . . . .2

9 min, 6 balls

M W Gatting c Kapil Dev b Venkat Raju. . . 23

39 min, 45 balls, 3 fours

G A Hick not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . 99

249 min, 189 balls, 10 fours

] R J Blakey lbw b Kumble. . . . . . . . . .1

7 min, 11 balls

C C Lewis lbw b Kumble. . . . . . . . . . .49

116 min, 112 balls, 5 fours

J E Emburey not out. . . . . . . . . . . . .5

53 min, 57 balls, 1 four

Extras (b3 lb2 nb1). . . . . . . . . . . . .6

Total (for 7, 361 min, 99 overs). . . . . 239

Fall: 1-11 (Gooch), 2-25 (Stewart), 3-30 (Smith), 4-58 (Gatting), 5-116 (Atherton), 6-118 (Blakey), 7-211 (Lewis).

To bat: P A J DeFreitas, P C R Tufnell.

Bowling: Kapil Dev 6-2-10-1; Prabhakar 6-2-14-0 (nb1) (one spell each); Venkatapathy Raju 37-8- 80-2 (23-6-53-2) (8-0-19-0) (6-2-8-0); Kumble 30-2-77-3 (8-0-20-0) (10-0-38-2) (12-2-19-1); Chauhan 20-5-53-0 (7-2-25-0) (9-2-18-0) (4-1-10-0).

Progress: 50: 102 min, 26.1 overs. Lunch: 62-4 (Atherton 16, Hick 0) in 31 overs. 100: 158 min, 42.2 overs. 150: 213 min, 56.3 overs. Tea: 176-6 (Hick 57, Lewis 34) in 64 overs. 200: 285 min, 77.3 overs.

Hick's 50: 112 min, 79 balls, 7 fours.

INDIA: M Prabhakar, N S Sidhu, V G Kambli, S R Tendulkar, * M Azharuddin, P K Amre, Kapil Dev, K S More, A Kumble, R K Chauhan, Venkatapathy Raju.

Umpires: P D Reporter and S Venkataraghavan.

(Photograph omitted)