Stemp in control on and off pitch

England spinner finds new image. Jonathan Marks reports from Chandigarh
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The Independent Online
Two years ago, an England left-arm spinner with a controversial past and a dodgy temperament came to India and hated every waking moment. "Done the poverty, done the elephants. What else is there?" asked Philip Tufnell infamously.

Today another slow left-armer, who in his cricket career so far had succeeded mostly in acquiring a bad-boy reputation worthy of Tufnell, is loving every minute of his own first Indian journey.

Indeed, Yorkshire's Richard Stemp is bowling so well - and enjoying life so much - that by this summer he may expect to replace Tufnell in the full England side.

In England A's first "Test" victory over India A in Bangalore Stemp took 6 for 83, and had a match analysis of 7 for 105 from 63.2 overs. It was a performance of sustained skill and accuracy that confirmed the talent that the chairman of selectors, Ray Illingworth, saw in Stemp last summer when he picked him out of the blue for two England Test squads, and which notable judges in India like the former Test batsman, Gundappa Viswanath, have also quickly recognised. He followed up with 2 for 33 and a mara thon spell of 42 overs in which he took 2 for 104 in this week's second "Test" success.

Stemp, now 27, first courted controversy when - as a Worcestershire player in 1992 - he tested positive in a Test and County Cricket Board random drug test. Later acquitted on appeal, his defence being that some drinks had been spiked at a party, the mudnevertheless stuck. On the field he also gained a bad image, only last summer being fined £500 by the TCCB for using abusive language in a Championship match.

Like Tufnell, he was thought unreliable, a risk, a cricketer in need of careful handling - and not just an arm around the shoulder either, but often a heavy smack on the wrist.

Of his bowling, Stemp says: "The work I've done before this tour has given me great confidence. I am now more consistent and rhythmic in my approach to the crease. Norman Gifford was a big help at Lilleshall, where I straightened my run-up and got my head and body going down the pitch at the moment of delivery and not across the crease.

"I am sure that it was frustration at not being able to bowl the same way from one day to the next that caused all my problems of temperament in the past.

"I used to blow up and get stressed up - but I feel now that I am in control. Going to Yorkshire has also helped me on the discipline side of things.

"Now, coming to India makes you realise just how lucky you are. . . How can I complain when I am playing cricket inside a stadium when outside in the streets there are thousands of people living in awful squalor?

"The whole tour so far has been a huge eye opener, but I love the people here. They are so friendly and they love it if you joke and play around a bit."

Stemp has taken to bowling in wrap-around sunglasses which, with his close-cropped russet hair, makes him look uncannily like Max Headroom. But he said: "It's not a gimmick. It reduces the glare for one thing, but it also means that their batsmen can't see my eyes. If they hit me for four then they can't see my reaction. I think that helps me.

"What pleased me most about my first-innings haul in the Test was not just that it was easily the best I have bowled in my career but also that I didn't lose control when a few early umpiring decisions didn't go my way.

Stemp is still a colourful and sometimes spiky character, but there is suddenly more substance to him as both a cricketer and a person.

Certainly, Indian crowds have taken to him already, enjoying his easy banter either when fielding on the boundary or enjoying a cigarette outside the dressing-room. The Tufnell comparisons, of course, are bound to continue for a while, but the need for acrafty fag should soon be the only one applicable.

Stemp, in fact, is heartily sick of the newspaper stories which highlighted his past shortcomings. He is now determined that there is only one story to be written: that Richard Stemp has cleaned up his act and is ready for Test cricket.

n England A's third one-day international against India A at Hyderabad on 16 February -the last game of the tour - has been confirmed as a day/night match. India A have dropped five players, including the former Test men Pravin Amre, Rajesh Chauhan and Vijay Yadav, for the third "Test" in Chandigarh, which starts tomorrow.

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