Bell puts best foot forward

Batsman quick to make himself at home as England play numbers game in a gentle warm-up
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The Independent Online

England were reduced to 14 men yesterday for the opening match of their tour of India. Under normal circumstances this would not have mattered much, since a team can usually get by adequately with 11, sometimes plus a 12th man, or 12 plus a 13th man if you happen to be playing under those faintly ridiculous regulations governing one-day internationals, which have now been ditched.

But England had asked for this curtain-raiser at the Brabourne Stadium to feature all 16 members of their squad, to give every-body time in the middle and bugger the laws of cricket.

The trouble was that two of their number, Marcus Trescothick (flu) and Liam Plunkett (stomach virus) then withdrew, leaving a predicament. Should the CCI President's XVI become a XIV, or were they never going to be anything other than a XI in any case, although they had named an initial squad of XVII?

The answer to this was never forthcoming, although the fact that the home side used nine bowlers, six of them before lunch, was an indication of their thinking on numbers. None of them was much cop, which was as well for the tourists, because the pitch early on was a greentop, of the sort to be found at Derby on dank Tuesdays in May.

The ball moved around appreciably both ways with some bounce. It has become something of a tradition on England tours of the subcontinent for the tourists to encounter surfaces in warm-up games which have as much in common with the Test pitches as night with day or Charlotte Green with Chantelle Houghton. What larks.

Nor was there a left-arm seamer in the massed ranks, although the Indian team seem to possess a limitless number of them. Later on, when the pitch dried out, there was some bounce and an amount of turn for two of the spinners, which was much more pertinent.

Most of England's batsmen got in, which is what it was all about, and then got out, which isn't, although it did not matter much. Nobody was counting hard. Of the top seven in the order, three made half-centuries, one was left unbeaten on 47 and two reached the twenties.

The seventh made nought, but since that was Matthew Prior, who will not appear in the Test team unless Geraint Jones has a most extreme dose of Nagpur, Chandigarh or Bombay belly, the lament could not be widespread.

Ian Bell was the top scorer in England's 299 all out with a well-composed 78 that he began with grave deliberation. Having cleared himself of the cobwebs he pranced down the wicket to strike a straight six, and in essaying something similar next ball was stumped.

This apart, the innings of Andrew Strauss and the captain, Michael Vaughan, must also have pleased the tourists, since they had to weather the early movement and did so by putting on 102 for the second wicket. There was some modest bowling, as demonstrated by Strauss's 11 fours in his 51 and Vaughan's 11 and a six in his 54.

Vaughan's innings, even in a match as low-key as this, was an oddity. At one point, when he was eight, he was scoreless for 27 balls and then struck nine fours off his next 13.

The crowd was thin to the point of anorexia, as it always is for these matches, and again begged the question that if cricket is so huge in this neck of the woods (which it is, witness the $613 million (£350m) that has just been paid for television rights to India's matches for the next four years) then why does nobody come to watch some of the world's best cricketers? Perhaps because they all know that warm-ups leave you cold.

The Brabourne Stadium here was in good, old colonial, order. Its stands are of the basic kind, as all stands were when it was built in the Thirties. But its pavilion is decorous and classily subdued (more Charlotte than Chantelle), with a sleeping room set aside on the second floor.

It is a quirk that the man who provided the land for the ground's construction and after whom it was named in a unanimous vote of the Cricket Club of India, whose headquarters it still remains, never actually saw a game here.

Lord Brabourne, the fifth baronet, was the Governor of Bombay when he and others mooted the stadium. Shortly after he laid the foundation stone, however, he was posted to become Governor of Bengal and in 1939, two years after the first match at the ground, he died.

If it seemed slightly disrespectful to such an auspicious, if relatively young, ground, to be playing fast and loose with the laws regarding the number of players in a team, it should be noted that the third match at the stadium was a 12-a-side affair. That was between the Cricket Club of India and the Europeans. Presumably, the Europeans wanted to give all their lads time in the middle.