Rathore to the fore again

Cricket: Tourists take full advantage of Gloucestershire's limited attack to advertise the strength of their batting; The Indians 282-4 v Gloucestershire
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The Independent Online
Batting practice does not come much easier than this. On a day that told us little we did not already know about where the Indians' strength lies, a severely weakened Gloucestershire were for a long time powerless to stop the runs accumulating as Navjot Sidhu scored his first hundred of the tour and Vikram Rathore continued his rich vein of form.

The loss of three wickets after tea slowed the Indians' progress and gave Gloucestershire some reward for a performance in the field that was always persistent if rarely inspired. But by the time bad light brought play to an end 20 minutes early, David Graveney, the England selector on duty here, had surely not gained any startling insights.

The Indians left Worcester on Friday somewhat put out that their hosts had ruined the chance of a competitive conclusion to the first match in the Tetley's Challenge series by failing to declare early enough. If they came to Bristol hoping for more of a test, then one glance at the 11 opposition names would have told them they were probably not going to get it.

There was a temptation to read into the Gloucestershire line-up a return to the cynical old days when the only value counties saw in matches against touring teams was as an opportunity to rest the senior pros.

An assortment of injuries, however, had apparently cropped up which removed from the reckoning no fewer than five of the team that had beaten Middlesex in their opening County Championship match, and a pretty important five it was at that: Jack Russell, Tony Wright, Robert Cunliffe, Mike Smith and Kevin Cooper. In addition, Courtney Walsh, the Gloucestershire captain, was still not back from the West Indies.

The uniformity of the Gloucestershire attack was one of the reasons why the Indians were able to make light of the slowness of the pitch and meander agreeably if less than rivetingly towards a commanding total.

Mark Alleyne, who was the stand-in captain, took advantage of some variable bounce at the pavilion end and finished with three for 71.

At the end of their first full week of cricket, the Indians have an unlikely leading batsman in Rathore, a 27-year-old Punjabi who had had no previous international experience when he went with the team to Sharjah for the one-day tournament that followed the World Cup. Two modest innings there were enough to secure him a place on this tour, which he has begun by scoring 403 runs in four innings.

After following his 103 against the National Cricket Association on Monday with 165 and 72 against Worcestershire, Rathore was due to stand down for the Gloucestershire match. But Ajay Jadeja was unfit, so Rathore opened with Sidhu and made 63 with the air of a man almost bored with his own good form.

While Sidhu was content to bide his time, it was not long before Rathore was picking off Kamran Sheeraz and Jonathan Lewis, who must have wondered what had induced Alleyne to put the Indians in to bat.

A tall and nicely balanced right-hander, Rathore hit some rippling shots through the covers and off his legs and looked in no danger of getting out when he clipped Alleyne firmly in the direction of midwicket and Dominic Hewson took off to make an outstanding, goalkeeper-style catch.

That was 93 for one and the cue for Sidhu to open out, but he was still upstaged by the strokeplay of Sanjay Manjrekar, whose 55 was notable for the way he rocked back and cut the slow left-armer Richard Davis through cover-point.

Just after the tea interval, a ball that failed to come on drew Manjrekar into his first and last mistake and Alleyne caught the return. Sidhu was eventually bowled for 115 by one that beat his outside edge before Mohammad Azharuddin was leg before playing across the line to Bobby Dawson.