India fire warning shots

Indians 305-3 dec Leicestershire 38-0
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The Independent Online
Graham Gooch, playing Test selector rather than opening bat, sat anonymously behind a closed window in the cricket school at Grace Road. He had made a detour on his way to today's selectors' meeting in Manchester to watch Alan Mullally, Leicestershire's left-arm, fast medium bowler who has all of a sudden become a likely prospect for England's squad for the First Test.

Leicestershire's cricket manager, Jack Birkenshaw, had originally intended to rest Mullally against the Indian tourists, but a polite request from the selectors quickly changed his mind: Mullally would bowl, though sparingly. He was lucky. His eight-over spell was over long before Mohammad Azharuddin laid the Leicester attack to waste with a splendid undefeated century scored off just 86 balls - the fifth fastest of the summer - before declaring to give his bowlers some practice.

If Azharuddin is going to play like this in the Tests, Mullally will need to bowl better than he did yesterday. Mullally is slim, 6ft 5in, and as erect as a Guardsman; he bowls smoothly with a high arm action - outswingers mostly to the right-hander, though he has been working on his inswinger.

In his second over, Mullally cut through Vikram Rathore's defence and emitted a loud, confident shout, but Harold "Dickie" Bird was quite unmoved. Getting India's new opening batsman out for a duck is exactly the start of which Mullally would have dreamed, and he was a very disgruntled fast bowler when he took his cap from Bird at the end of the over. Phil Simmons, Leicester's captain for the match, consoled Mullally, reminding him, no doubt, how hard it is to get a leg-before decision from Bird.

One sharp delivery caught Rathore so hard in the groin that you could here the crack of ball on box. Rathore took some time to recover his composure and, having done so, drove Mullally's slower ball, which he over-pitched, straight through mid-off for four. Perhaps he was trying too hard, especially with the wind behind him, and Mullally was more erratic than he would have wished; his eight overs cost 28 runs.

Mullally, aged 26, was born in Southend and grew up in Australia before returning to play for Leicester six years ago. He has been mentioned as an England possible before and sensing that it might be now or never, he worked hard through the winter on his fitness and that inswinger. He has got his chance because of Mark Illot's poor form; England will need a left-hander in a four-man seam attack at Edgbaston.

Once Mullally had finished, Rathore got on with his batting practice. He has had more of it than most of his colleagues, who turn out for early- morning training feeling the cold and looking unhappy. One of the team managers appeared yesterday wearing a Kashmiri fur hat, and the wind was wuthering.

Rathore, who will make his Test debut on Thursday, was unperturbed by Leicester's reputable pace attack, punching anything loose on the offside to the cover boundary. When he went in to lunch, Rathore had scored 71 off 79 balls and a century seemed inevitable. But he wafted the first ball after lunch - an easy half-volley - to point. He must have cursed himself.

His opening stand of 62 with Nayan Mongia was a reminder that India's wicketkeeper has a Test average of 35.27. When he had gone for 22, Sanjay Manjrekar scored a quick, confident 40 before giving a difficult catch to Simmons at second slip and Rahul Dravid never looked at all uncomfortable. These Indian batsmen will score much more heavily in five-day cricket than they did in the Texaco Trophy.

Azharuddin strode out to the crease after the fall of the third wicket. The light was good, the pitch was easy-paced and at least half the crowd of about 3,000 settled down for a treat. Yesterday was the beginning of the Leicester cricket festival; there was a brass band, and dancing displays by local girls. The girls were Indian, and half the crowd were Indian too.

A snake charmer was perfectly bland compared to the Indian captain, whose century included six sixes, two of which were driven dead straight over the pavilion. Bird, who is to be made an honorary member of Leicestershire today, got in a frightful state because someone in the crowd had stolen the spare balls.

Unlike Azharrudin's elegant butchery, it wasn't cricket.

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