Cricket Club of India 251 England 299 & 30-1: Blackwell edges rivals in race for Test spin place

It is a bizarre contest. If there has never been one like it before, the chances of it recurring are slimmer than Duncan Fletcher doing stand-up. The solitary place likely to be available for a spin bowler in England's side for the first Test against India is between a Sikh who was born in Luton and bats and fields in ways that could be politely described as undistinguished, a tubby, bucolic chap with a career bowling average of 43, and a fit 36-year-old who was constantly overlooked by the selectors for the first 16 years of his career.

The tubby one nudged himself in front here in Bombay yesterday. Ian Blackwell took 4 for 57 with his left-arm spin in 13.3 overs against the CCI President's team. It was not always controlled and it was never quite demonic but his two spellswere notable for his willingness to vary his flight and to attack the batsmen from round the wicket. His rivals, Monty Panesar and Shaun Udal (Monty is the Sikh and Shaun the fit 36-year-old), were not quite so successful.

Panesar, also a left-armer, took his first wicket for an England side late in the day but tended to bowl too flat as if worried that another method would give away runs and annoy teacher. Udal's off-spin never found its rhythm and although he played in England's most recent Test, the defeat at Lahore in December, and could therefore be termed the man in possession it was possible to see him slipping back to third place.

Blackwell undoubtedly chose the correct option on a surface offering generous turn, albeit slowly, and some bounce. He and the others are clearly aware of what is going on and what they have to do. However, the rivalry - Udal played his only three Tests so far in Pakistan late last year, Blackwell and Panesar have yet to play - does not preclude mutual support. "We're all playing for the Lions," said Blackwell, looking more rustic than ever after his stint in the afternoon sun. "We're in competition but we have to try to make that enjoyable and whoever is playing at the time to rally round between us."

The fact was, however, that Blackwell frequently looked like taking wickets and his rivals did not. He had the benefit of bowling to a right-handed batsman early on and was able to turn the ball past the outside edge. Panesar, confronted with a left-hander at first, fired the ball in. It was by no means poor bowling but nor was it smart bowling.

This little contest considerably enhanced another amenable day at the Brabourne. It was not sufficient to prevent four, sometimes five, games of bridge being conducted in the Card Room in the Cricket Club of India pavilion but it might have kept from their afternoon nap some of the denizens of the of the Gentlemen's Siesta Room (open noon to 6pm).

Informed rumours are circulating that the Brabourne may make its comeback as an international venue in the Champions' Trophy, which is being staged in India later this year. Struck off the list in the late Sixties after a row which led to the building of the Wankhede ground down the road, its recall is possible because as a private members' club it does not have the problems of ground advertising that the International Cricket Council forbids at its own events.

Just about every other ground in India meanwhile - and there are 21 which stage international matches - has commitments to sponsors which would be difficult to break. How straightforward it is to organise international cricket matches these days.

The match as a contest is perfectly meaningless. So far, the CCI have used 16 players. To show how they divided the tasks none of their six batsmen had been among the nine bowlers they used in England's first innings. Fifteen of the tourists have either batted or bowled, Liam Plunkett being the unlucky one to miss out, partly because of the stomach virus which prevented his participation on Saturday.

Blackwell will not be able to improve his career average with his figures, since the match shed first-class status as soon as the tourists started messing with the numbers. Still, it may ultimately work to their advantage. It was, as they said, a decent work-out for all.

The day began with two run-outs, both from direct hits which is not something you see from England fielders every day. The first was executed underarm by Kevin Pietersen swooping in low from cover and the second two balls later by the captain, Michael Vaughan, from mid-off.

England's quartet of seamers - the Fab Four - were given first use of the hard SG ball and Stephen Harmison took a wicket and gave a Amal Muzumdar a fearful rap on his right hand. Panesar was rightly the first spinner summoned.

Blackwell had to wait his turn and was actually the eighth bowler used. His wickets came from a stumping, a plumb leg-before and two ill-advised, miscued attacking shots off the leading edge. None of this should be remotely taken to suppose that, come Nagpur in nine days, Blackwell will have Rahul Dravid and his men calling for extra net sessions against the turning ball after close of play followed by sleepless nights.

"I'm comfortable bowling over or round the wicket to attacking fields or defensive fields," Blackwell said. He probably knows which it will be.

Bombay scoreboard

England won toss; second day of three

England - First Innings (Saturday)

A J Strauss b Waingankar 51

M J Prior b Verma 0

*M P Vaughan c Samant b Waingankar 54

I R Bell st Samant b Bachani 78

K P Pietersen b Ansari 26

A Flintoff c Indulkar b Redkar 20

P D Collingwood not out 47

ÝG O Jones c Muzumdar b Waingankar 1

I D Blackwell c Kukreja b Bachani 1

M J Hoggard b Abid Nabi 3

M S Panesar run out 3

Extras (lb1 w1 nb13) 15

Total (for 10, 89.3 overs) 299

Fall: 1-1 2-103 3-114 4-156 5-203 6-263 7-265 8-272 9-280.

Did not bat: S J Harmison, S P Jones, M E Trescothick, L E Plunkett, S D Udal.

Bowling: Verma 6-3-18-1; Abid Nabi 9-6-17-1; Mota 3-0-33-0; Waingankar 15-0-53-3; Hazare 6-0-28-0; Kulkarni 10-3-21-0; Bachani 18.3-2-66-2; Ansari 6-0-14-1; Redkar 16-1-48-1.

Cricket Club of India - First Innings

(Sunday)

S O Kukreja run out 18

A R Uthappa c G Jones b Harmison 19

V A Indulkar run out 1

A A Muzumdar ret hurt 15

H S Shinde c Flintoff b Hoggard 22

H M Shah run out 30

W A Mota st G Jones b Blackwell 28

ÝV R Samant lbw b Blackwell 53

A Redkar b Panesar 36

Abid Nabi c Hoggard b Blackwell 0

K Waingankar c Udal b Blackwell 10

R P Verma not out 4

Extras (b4 lb4 w4 nb3) 15

Total (79.3 overs) 251

Fall: 1-40 2-41 3-42 4-81 5-136 6-162 7-226 8-226 9-245.

Did not bat: *N M Kulkarni, H Bachani, M S Ansari, S P Hazare.

Bowling: Hoggard 12-3-24-1; Harmison 13-2-46-1; S P Jones 7-1-28-0; Flintoff 8-2-16-0; Bell 1-0-4-0; Panesar 18-5-45-1; Udal 7-2-23-0; Blackwell 13.3-3-57-4.

England - Second Innings

M E Trescothick not out 23

A J Strauss c Indulkar b Abid Nabi 0

K P Pietersen not out 4

Extras (w2 nb1) 3

Total (for 1, 8 overs) 30

Fall: 1-3.

To bat: *M P Vaughan, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, A Flintoff, S J Harmison, M J Hoggard, ÝG O Jones, I D Blackwell, M S Panesar, M J Prior, S P Jones, L E Plunkett, S D Udal.

Bowling: Verma 4-1-7-0; Abid Nabi 3-2-4-1; Redkar 1-0-19-0.

Umpires: S N Bandekar and S L Shastri.

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