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In a summer that lingers in the memory for sunshine and warmth, the Indian tourists were cruelly dogged by rain. Their one-day matches went unscathed - and they went unbeaten - but it was a different matter for their first-class fixtures.
Four of the seven were severely disrupted, though the clouds at Nottingham did at least have a silver lining when they forced the captains into mutual forfeits, and the agreed target proved well within the Indians' range. It was their only first-class win, though they were in no danger of defeat in the other six, and against Durham and Surrey they held much the upper hand.
The coach for the tour was Sandeep Patil, the former Indian Test batsman who guided Kenya to the semi-finals of the World Cup just three months earlier. That achievement had prompted speculation that he would succeed John Wright as national coach, and so Patil, who had held the post for a few months in 1996, was under almost as much scrutiny as his squad.
The party he brought was an experienced one, with 12 of the 16 having represented India at Test or one-day level. And they were given plenty of incentive to perform: Patil made it clear that anyone who shone on this sixweek tour would have an excellent chance of stepping up to the senior side. Competition among the openers was especially keen since Sanjay Bangar's place in the Test team was looking vulnerable, while Virender Sehwag was not guaranteed an opening slot.
Leading the pack of aspirants was the captain, Shiv Sunder Das, with 23 Tests to his name. He began the first-class games with a hundred against Durham and remained reliable, though he did not quite sparkle as he might have wished. Four others opened at one stage or another, and although there were decent scores from them all, no one did enough to get the nod when in October the selectors did indeed plump for a new opener. Aakash Chopra, ruled out of this tour with a knee injury, was chosen.
Part of the problem for the batsmen was that it was impossible to judge just what their runs were worth. "We were very happy with our itinerary," Patil said, "but disappointed that few sides put out strong teams. We would have liked to have played an England A team to test ourselves." It was a familiar, valid gripe: none of the counties put out full-strength teams, and Surrey, capable of fielding 11 internationals, selected five youngsters to make their first-class debuts. Even at Arundel, against the touring South African side, the match was treated as an extended net session.
Given the weakness of the opposition, it was important that the Indians avoided defeat, which they did. And there were several positives to emerge from the visit. The wicket-keeper, Parthiv Patel, still only 18, hit his maiden first-class hundred, against Yorkshire, while Ambati Rayudu, even younger at 17, confirmed what a huge prospect he is with wristy, elegant performances against Nottinghamshire and Surrey. Meanwhile, Rohan Gavaskar looked as though he were emerging from the shadow of his illustrious father - and in January 2004 was called up to the senior one-day side for the VB Series in Australia. Run-scoring generally was a strength, and only one member of the squad, Vijay Bharadwaj, would look back at the tour as an opportunity missed.
The bowling - inevitably subject to the same caveat as the batting - perhaps achieved slightly less. Amit Bhandari, a right-arm seamer, was most penetrative, though an 18-year-old, the brisk left-armer Irfan Pathan, caught the eye with nine (admittedly expensive) wickets. There were high hopes for the leg-spinner Amit Mishra, but the conditions did not always favour him - or the left-arm spinner Murali Kartik - and Patil would have struggled to draw meaningful conclusions from their combined 270 overs.
Overall, despite a spate of injuries, the squad performed well as a unit, banana skins were avoided, and there were none of the discipline problems that had plagued West Indies A the previous year. All that was really missing was a proper commitment to the tour on the part of the counties and the ECB. That, it seems, is asking too much.
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