Solanki starts to graft steel on to the sublime

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The Independent Online

As Vikram Solanki walked towards the pavilion after he had been stumped for 115, Philip Weston of Gloucestershire trotted towards him to shake his hand. The audience rose to him. Even the Gloucestershire sectors, although their reaction was more polite than enthusiastic. The Worcestershire fans cheered Solanki the whole way. They understood that he had saved the team from humiliation - for a while, anyway.

Weston's thoughtful gesture defined a remarkable performance. "He played out of his skin," said Steve Rhodes, the Worcestershire captain.

Solanki's innings might not have won the match but it unquestionably saved it, and it did win him Man of the Match. He had watched Jon Lewis's disturbingly accurate line and length, moving the ball off the seam so that it found the edge of three of Solanki's colleagues, including Graeme Hick, his mentor.

At 8 for 3, only a concentrated, determined and disciplined innings could salvage Worcestershire's pride, and Solanki would not top the list of players who might exhibit those virtues. He is an expansive batsman with exciting shots and an irritating ability to get out early on. He scored 106 in a one-day international against South Africa last summer, an innings full of promise. But it was not fulfilled in nine more one-dayers for England in which he scored only 160 runs.

Duncan Fletcher dropped him on the tour of Sri Lanka last winter, but after England's abject performances in the NatWest Series he has been recalled for the Champions Trophy. He realises that it is his chance, and the way he played yesterday suggests he is capable of taking it, though he was inconsolable in defeat. When he was told how well he had played his reply was monosyllabic: "Good". He stubbornly declined to appear at the press conference.

But notes from the scorebook speak volumes about the quality of this innings. After 12 overs Solanki had scored just seven, and he moved into double figures only in the 13th over. After 20 overs he was 25 and had unleashed the first of his handsome drives to the extra-cover boundary.

The acceleration began in the next five overs, when he added 20 runs, including four fours. After 35 overs he was on 70, still showing disciplined determination and deep concentration. One on-drive looped high over mid-on's head, but the rest of the scoring strokes were safely played across the turf. An on-drive to the pavilion off the back foot was the best of them.

He arrived at his hundred in the 43rd over and only then did he cut loose, hitting 14 runs, driven, cut and glanced, off Mike Hussey. The discipline had finally relaxed, and when he danced down the pitch to Martyn Ball's inviting off-spin, he missed and the keeper, Stephen Adshead, had time enough to pause before flicking off one bail. Worcestershire were 202 for 4, and Gloucestershire were about to turn the screw.

Solanki, good-looking, intelligent, born in Udaipur, India, on April Fool's Day 1976, is a pessimist, more conscious of failure than success. Not unlike Hick, who has passed on to Solanki some of the lessons from his own bitter experience. "He has been through the whole gamut of emotions and what he has told me is to be myself, and to be careful not always to be overcritical of myself," said Solanki.

He said abruptly on TV that he will only think about England today. But England will be thinking about him, batting two or three and lending athleticism to the fielding. Yesterday may prove a flash in the pan, of course, but the manner of Solanki's 115 here had a more permanent look to it.

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