Gut instinct puts squad on Test alert

On a tour of England 10 years ago, the Indian batsman Sanjay Manjrekar fell ill and put it down to the alien diet he was being offered in strange hotels. If that prefaced the sort of attitudes cutely sent up in Goodness Gracious Me it was worth bearing in mind yesterday before everybody nodded archly at the announcement that four England players had gone down with stomach bugs on the eve of their match against the Board President's XI.

Delhi Belly, or in this case Gujarati Guts, is a predictable component of England tours to the subcontinent, except that nobody can predict who gets it and when. Just as the media - both indigenous and travelling - were working themselves up to a pitch of excitement comparable to the reaction to avian flu which hit these parts four days ago, two of the afflicted players turned up for practice.

True, both Monty Panesar and Ian Blackwell looked a trifle anaemic - which in Blackwell's case reduced his pallor from cricket-ball scarlet to night-sky crimson - and Panesar was observed dashing in the direction of the changing-rooms, but it was an indication that the virus might not be durable. The other duo, Shaun Udal and Simon Jones, were still confined to barracks.

It had been of particular concern because all three spin bowlers in the tourists' squad suffered. Perhaps their tummies churned more because of the tight contest between them for a place in the first Test next week. The trio were all desperate to play in the second and final warm-up match today against the Indian Board President's XI. But Stephen Harmison, the fast bowler who has so far been spared a dose of the trots, made a pertinent point.

"If anybody was turning round and assuming well, that's the Test 11, I think everybody in the 16 will now be switched on thinking they might have a chance of playing because somebody else might get ill," he said. " And that's no bad thing at all." Perhaps it would be mistaken to infer from that he would not mind a mild bout before the one-day series.

England can expect a thorough work-out in the next three days. The Board President's XI have selected a proper team distinct from the largely callow youths who lined up in the tour opener in Bombay. Their squad included Munaf Patel and V R V Singh, who the chairman of selectors, Kiran More, insisted yesterday were the fastest two bowlers in India. The pitch had a green tinge, which may not totally replicate conditions in Nagpur but should still give England's seam quartet scope to find form.

On the food front, it was difficult to know whether it was good or bad news for the players that chicken has disappeared overnight from restaurant menus because of the avian flu scare. It might or might not give their tummies some relief, but it certainly reduces their choices by at least half.

* A decision on who will broadcast live coverage of the series will be announced this morning. Nimbus, the company which paid £352m for rights to India's home matches until 2010, will reveal the details today.

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