Welcome to a different England – same as the other one

Indian Diary
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The Independent Online

Another contest has been taking place here between India and England. It has not exactly gone the way of the English women's cricket team. Indeed, it could be said that India have driven through them like a juggernaut, which is an Indian word for the lavishly decorated temple cars which are dragged through the streets during Hindi festivals.

Another contest has been taking place here between India and England. It has not exactly gone the way of the English women's cricket team. Indeed, it could be said that India have driven through them like a juggernaut, which is an Indian word for the lavishly decorated temple cars which are dragged through the streets during Hindi festivals.

It is one of the small wonders of the world how both one-day teams have gone backwards. Before 1996, the England men reached three finals and the semi-final in five World Cups. The women were world champions in 1993.

From this base has come disaster. The men are beginning to rebuild – slowly, and nobody is yet prepared to stick out their neck and add surely. The women have yet to begin on that arduous route.

Of the five one-dayers in India, England lost all five by a distance. Their tour was summed up on Thursday. Arran Thompson and Caroline Atkins put on 134 for the first wicket and still England lost by six wickets.

The official verdict on the tour was "disappointing", which is understandable. When Nasser Hussain, the men's captain was asked to comment on the women's performance he smiled, a little thinly, one felt, said he had no comment and wished them well.

Crowds for the matches have not been as large as for the men nor quite as raucous – it is difficult to imagine what could be – but the players will still have experienced nothing like it. Columns of schoolgirls have been bussed into the grounds, all games have been televised and autograph hunters have gathered.

Thompson and Atkins were the success stories. In the one Test match, which was a draw, they shared a world- record 200 partnership for the first wicket. Atkins, from Sussex, made 90, Thompson, from Lancashire, made 85.

But too often the Indian spinners have found the middle and late order to their liking. Where have we heard that before? Like the men, England will again play India at home this summer. Nobody is expecting a significant reversal of fortunes. Hussain was speaking of his team, but he might have been referring to the women when he said: "We still have a long way to go. We can only take one step at a time and we're bound to have good days and bad days." They could start putting it in the ECB manual for all England captains.

Murali's magic

England cannot have been more regally greeted than they were in Madras last week. This was partly because their captain was born there and the city fathers wished to honour him, partly because the city was one of the first Indian places where the British East India Company established a settlement (in a village called Madraspatnam).

It became Chennai in 2000 better to reflect the Tamil population of the state of Tamil Nadu, of which the city is the capital. Chennapatnam was a village with a Tamil population. It was noticeable, however, that the city's main cricket club, where Hussain was made an honorary member, retains the old name of Madras Cricket Club.

However, important as the English tourists were deemed and well though they were received, they were not the most significant cricketing visitors to Madras last week. The world's best spin bowler was in town.

Muttiah Muralitharan had arrived to help out at the Indian spin academy. But he could not help bowling over after over in the nets himself, which is how he got to be as good as he is. Murali also obliged with interview after interview, smiling his way through them all. Never could you tell what a demonic spinner he is until he has the ball in his hands.

"I have no personal ambitions in the game," he said. "But my aim is to take 600 Test wickets and play for five or six more years." Lucky he has no personal ambition, then. Since Murali has already taken 400 at the age of 28, the youngest to do so, he may be selling himself short.

Who knows, he may one day return to Lancashire. Andrew Flintoff revealed what his role was as a bowler there in Murali's presence. "The seamers were asked to try to take one or two wickets with the new ball, then Murali would come on and take the rest," he said. "Mind you," he added as an afterthought, "that's different from in Tests, where he just takes them all."

Golden boy Ben

The journey from Madras was marked by a game of tombola on the aeroplane. Tombola, another word with Indian roots, was bingo. (Look, you have to believe it helped to pass the time).

Two of the players on board won. Ajay Ratra, the new Indian wicketkeeper, was one. But one of the big prizes for a full house went to Ben Hollioake, who had recovered from the severe stomach complaint which forced him from the field in the third one-dayer the previous night.

Hollioake won 15 golden coins, which everybody assumed would be made of chocolate until it was revealed that they were indeed minted gold and were worth 4000 rupees (£56) each. Presumably, he will have to contribute them to the team pool.

Sunil delight

The crowds were massed for a mile outside the Chepauk Stadium, Madras. The police were letting the traffic no nearer. A minibus carrying cameramen and reporters was being swiftly repelled when the small man in the front seat took off his sunglasses. Recognition dawned on the face of the traffic cop, who waved the vehicle through as he swooned before the Indian batting legend Sunil Gavaskar, who smiled quietly to himself.

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