Cricket: Troubles cast a cloud over England tour

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Board President's XI . .223

England . . . . . . . . 168-3

IT IS not unusual on a long winter tour for cricketers to start hallucinating over plates of sausage and mash, frost on the car windscreen, and a pint of Theakston's Old Peculier, and England's cricketers in India may yet become reacquainted with a few home comforts more quickly than they anticipated.

India at the moment is a long way removed from the stable environment that the tourists were promised before they set off two weeks ago, and an anodyne statement along the lines of 'business as usual' from the tour management yesterday did little to alleviate the suspicion that this tour will do well to run its full course.

In six days' time, England are scheduled to play a one-day international in Ahmedabad, where 41 people have died over the last two days in violence connected to the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque by Hindu extremists. The town is under curfew, and the army is patrolling the streets.

In Bombay, where England are due to play the last of their three Test matches in India next month, 90 people have been killed in the last few days. A terrorist bomb went off on a Delhi train this week, killing two passengers, and two people were shot dead here yesterday, almost within rifle-shot of the cricket ground.

It appears to be almost as dangerous to travel as it is to arrive. Apart from the train explosion, one of the Russian aircraft being hired to relieve the Indian airlines strike crashed on landing in New Delhi yesterday (injuring a number of passengers and prompting the resignation of the Minister of Aviation), and another one almost did so when it mistook a short air force base runway for the commercial one.

England's cricketers, not surprisingly, are not terribly comforted by all this, and the team's charter flight from Delhi to Lucknow this week was sufficiently hairy for several not to wish to repeat the experience. Philip Tufnell was the first to request a return to Delhi by train for Wednesday's one-day game against the President's XI, Robin Smith's hand shot up shortly afterwards, and several other players are now clamouring for terrestrial travel.

The tour manager, Bob Bennett, attempted to play down the problems with a statement to the effect that he had been in touch with 'a senior official' at the British High Commission in Delhi, which was 'monitoring the situation'. As it was a 'senior official' (possibly the same one) who remarked to Graham Gooch at a party given by the press for the players in Delhi: 'The problem with this party is that there are too many press men', not everyone has total confidence that the High Commission has its finger squarely on the pulse.

None the less, Bennett added: 'All the England flights are confirmed for the next week, and there is no reason to alter our plans in any way.' Remarkably, the statement concluded: 'There is no change in the situation.' A straw-poll of the England dressing-room would reveal that what there is change in is several sets of underwear.

There are 5,000 armed police in attendance at England's match here, which is, more encouragingly, around a quarter of the attendance on each of the last two days. They jump up and down after every ball, let off firecrackers when they get really excited and, despite the local smog having trimmed around three hours' playing time thus far, have been rewarded with some pretty decent cricket.

Yesterday, the Northamptonshire left-arm seamer Paul Taylor did his prospects of a game in Ahmedabad no harm at all (more fool him) by taking five of the President's last six wickets, four of them in his first 20 deliveries of the day. Taylor, a tall, yeoman figure ideally built for the hard work that represents fast bowling in this part of the world, was oddly limited to only half a dozen overs on the opening day, and looked a fairly average performer.

Yesterday, however, he was entrusted with opening the bowling, looked far more relaxed, and had his in-swingers working well through the smog. His second ball was jabbed by Ajay Sharma into Mike Gatting's midriff at short-leg (from where it was unlikely not to stick) and his fifth resulted in Rajesh Chauhan edging to Alec Stewart.

Taylor then uprooted Nayam Mongia's leg stump, and if his last two wickets owed a little to some tail-end agriculture, it still represented an impressive performance.

When England batted, the Gooch-Gatting opening partnership survived some early squeaks and then tucked in encouragingly against three spinners - Maninder Singh, Narendra Hirwani and Chauhan - all thought to be in the frame for India's Test team.

Gatting played beautifully for his 85 not out, but Stewart and Smith fell cheaply to Hirwani, and Gooch was stumped for 77 sweeping. Gooch thus failed by 23 runs to register what may or may not have been his 100th century, and given that this matter is being deliberated by the International Cricket Council, it may be the 21st century before a decision is forthcoming.

The question in India, though, is whether the England captain's next opportunity will arise at a venue rather closer to Chelmsford than Calcutta.

(Second day of three: President's XI won toss)

PRESIDENT'S XI - First Innings

(Overnight 178 for 3)

A Sharma c Gatting b Taylor 0

N R Mongia b Taylor55

R Chauhan c Stewart b Taylor0

* Maninder Singh b Gooch 15

S A Ankola c Gooch b Taylor 3

P S Viadya b Taylor13

N D Hirwani not out 1

Extras (b2 lb6 w1 nb2)11

Total (for 9, 76.4 overs) 223

Fall (cont): 4-178 5-178 6-197 7-201 8-219 9-223.

Bowling: DeFreitas 20-5-59-0; Lewis 11-2-35-1; Emburey 14-4-44-1; Taylor 15.4-4-46-5; Tufnell 11-1-29-0; Gooch 5-3-2-2.

ENGLAND - First Innings

* G A Gooch st Mongia b Hirwani77

M W Gatting not out85

A J Stewart lbw b Hirwani4

R A Smith lbw b Hirwani1

P A J DeFreitas not out0


Total (for 3)168

Fall: 1-131 2-135 3-164 .

To bat: N H Fairbrother, G A Hick, C C Lewis, J E Emburey, J P Taylor, P C R Tufnell.

Bowling: Viadya 6-0-24-0; Ankola 11-3-25-0; Chauhan 10-2-40-0; Maninder Singh 14-3-41-0; Hirwani 14-2-37-3.

Umpires: S Venkataraghavan and P D Reporter.