July 22, 2002

India stroll to victory as Hampshire subside

The last day's play for the Indians before the Lord's Test that starts on Thursday ended as expected, in less than spectacular fashion. Chasing 253 for victory on a wicket that was increasingly difficult to bat on, Hampshire were bowled out for 186 in 46.2 overs, giving India victory by 66 runs.

The day's play was of purely academic interest, with the result almost a foregone conclusion. It began with Hampshire's Robin Smith and John Francis attempting to keep the Indian bowlers at bay. With deliveries continuing to surprise batsmen by bounce or the lack of the same, there was little the bowlers needed to do besides putting the ball in the right place.

Sanjay Bangar got one right on target to trap Smith (19) in front of the stumps. Lawrence Prittipaul, a cousin of the popular West Indian Shivnarine Chanderpaul, entered to encouraging cheers. The middle-order batsman gave those gathered at the Rose Bowl reason to smile, as he played a few fierce cuts that raced to the fence. On a day where batting was a bit of a lottery, Prittipaul livened things up with an innings of 32 in just 40 balls. By the time he had begun to look good, however, wickets were falling at the other end. John Francis (19) gave Tinu Yohannan his only wicket of the innings.

From then on to 129/8 there was little batting of note, and it appeared that the game would be over well before the scheduled luncheon interval at 1 o'clock. But Hampshire's batting can hardly be expected to fold up to suit those looking out for a good lunch. Shaun Udal batted imaginatively to reach an unbeaten 36, putting on 57 for the ninth, and effectively last wicket.

James Tomlinson (23) supported Udal as best as he could, but could not get the bat down in time to keep out a Kumble skidder. When the appeal for lbw was upheld, it was all over for the hosts. John Crawley, due to do duty for England in the forthcoming Test series, did not bat. The middle-order batsman, laid low by a virus, could have just as easily been kept back to avoid the risk of injury on this Rose Bowl wicket.

While sections of the media have been quick to decry the Hampshire authorities for the wicket, Indian coach John Wright was his calm, collected self. "Obviously we would have liked a better surface," he told reporters soon after the match. "But we don't like to moan and groan about it. This is a new surface and it will take a bit of time to settle down," he added.

The decision to rest both left arm seamers Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan raised a few eyebrows, but once again Wright had his answers close at hand. "They've all done a lot of bowling in the recent past and it was a conscious decision on our part to give them a rest. We've simulated match conditions in practice sessions and preparations are fine."

In contrast to India, England have had their share of injury worries. With Darren Gough, Alex Tudor, Marcus Trescothick and Andy Caddick all on the injured list, Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher have a bit to worry about.

Wright, though, was happy to leave the worrying to the opposite camp. "We don't really want to think too much about the injuries in the England team. It's not the way we think. They're a highly competitive side and we know that from their recent tour to India. What we need to do is concentrate on playing well, as close to our potential as possible. We nearly did that in the one-dayers, and that's what we need to take forward to the Tests as well," said Wright.

It is true that India's preparations for the Test series have been hampered by the two-paced nature of this wicket. But Wright was quick to reassure journalists that the Indian team was well prepared. When pressed to make further comment on the wicket, Wright sprang a surprise. Departing from his usually guarded and careful style of answering, he said: "I'm told wickets are a bit like red wine. They need a bit of time to settle down." There was a twinkle in is eye as he ended the press conference and moved over to the nets where the Indians were having a session. Wine apart, the Indian team certainly appear in high spirits going in to the Test series.