Lewis the light in England's darkness
By Martin Johnson in Madras
The mercury climbed above 100F in the Chepauk Stadium during
the second Test here yesterday, but it was still possible to watch
England from an unshaded seat and shiver. Plans are already afoot,
more than likely, to bring their own smog masks, a doctor and a
chef on their next visit here, and there is a certain amount of
evidence that an optician might not be a bad idea either.
One of the great ironies of this game is that no fewer than
five England players recorded their highest Test scores over the
weekend, (although Richard Blakey, on his debut, required only a
single) but as everyone bar Devon Malcolm had two innings in which
to do so, telegrams of congratulation may not be entirely approp-
Following on in three consecutive Tests against a side as
ordinary as India is no mean achievement, and on current form, the
prospects of making it four in a row in Bombay can scarcely be
ruled out. Neither will SriLanka offer any escape from this potent
***tail of heat and spin, and the groundsman in Colombo may
already have placed an order for a new set of wire brushes.
Even the solitary upbeat note from yesterday's shambles
merely went to prove that, at the moment, every silver lining has
a cloud. Chris Lewis's maiden Test century contained some magnifi-
cent strokeplay, but not only was it made from the relaxation of a
hopeless position, it also reinforced the feeling that Lewis will
always be a bewilderingly enigmatic cricketer.
''There's only one Chris Lewis'' was a predictable enough
chant from the here-we-go brigade in the reddening torso stand,
ignoring the compelling evidence that there are, on the contrary,
two Chris Lewises. He is very much a creature of fluctuating moods -
cheery smile one morning, blank look and a grunt the next - and
his performances appear to vary depending on whether there is a
full moon, or the Milky Way is in alignment with Orion. Yesterday,
perhaps not coincidentally, was his 25th birthday.
No one doubts that Lewis has as much natural talent as Ian
Botham, not even Botham himself, but his Test averages at the
start of this match (24 with the bat, 38 with the ball) may not be
entirely from the damned lies school of statistics. He has bowled
the occasional outstanding delivery in these two Tests, but has
more often looked innocuous, and while he clearly gets irritated
at queries over his fitness, so do we all. During India's 560 for
6 declared a thigh strain restricted him to only 11 overs.
England have been unfortunate with illness (although anyone
tucking into Chinese prawns on the eve of a Test in Madras can
hardly be described as prudent) and they have also been unlucky
with the toss. Furthermore, they have not been kindly treated here
by one of the umpires, Professor R S Rathore. As far as England
are concerned, he was a short-sighted professor on Saturday when
he gave three ropey leg-before decisions, and an absent-minded one
yesterday when he was busy dispensing seven-ball overs.
There is also some substance for England's suspicions that
India's batsmen were none too subtle about how they used their
spikes (although for county cricketers this constitutes one of the
better examples of pots and kettles) and the wear and tear,
natural or otherwise, left several small craters for the home
spinners to aim at when England batted.
However, on the few occasions they hit the bull's-eye, the
ball did far too much to get anyone out, and England's second-
innings performance in losing their first six wickets for 99 runs
on a pitch that offered India much less assistance than the one in
Calcutta, would have been faintly embarrassing for a club side.
In the first innings, with Alec Stewart and Graeme Hick in
the 60's, England declined from 157 for 1 to 220 for 7, and heart-
ening though it was to see Neil Fairbrother's enterprising 83 at
least partly offsetting the suspicion that England's best left-
handed No 5 was stuck behind a microphone in the Sky TV box,
Fairbrother's innings was compiled from every bit as hopeless a
position as Lewis's.
When England followed on 278 runs behind, any prospect they
had of making a fist of it evaporated when India's mischievous
tactic of giving the new ball to two seam bowlers resulted in
Kapil Dev, who completed 5,000 Test runs with the bat on Friday,
ripping out Stewart and Hick for two ducks to move within 15
victims of Richard Hadlee's 431.
Stewart was palpably leg before; Hick played no sort of shot
to give a catch to second slip, and Mike Gatting ought to have
completed a hat-trick of zeroes when Kiran More spilled him third
ball off Kapil, diving across first slip.
Gatting, though, was soon lbw playing the sweep shot that he
knows full well carries a much higher risk with Indian umpires
than at home, which, added to being ill, dropping a ludicrously
simple catch, and getting himself run out by the fielder at short
leg in the first innings, just about summed up his match.
Robin Smith exorcised one or two ghosts against the spinners
by making 52 until he pushed a catch to short leg with that dis-
tinctively stiff-wristed lunge of his, and fell to Anil Kumble for
the third time in the series. Kumble was spied on in South Africa
by Keith Fletcher before the series began, and his ''nothing to
fear from this bloke'' verdict now looks faintly daft.
He was right in a way, as Kumble barely turns it, but perhaps
Fletcher should have spent more time spying on his own batsmen.
Fairbrother's grotesque slog ballooned to mid-on, and Kumble's
third wicket in the space of four overs yesterday involved Blakey
offering no stroke to a perfectly straight ball. At this point
Mohammad Azharuddin's dubious credentials as a private eye took a
further knock when he took Kumble off.
By the time Kumble returned (to dismiss Ian Salisbury with
his seventh ball) England had gone from 99 for 6 to 172 for 6, and
Lewis was in full cry. The six over long-on off Venkatapathy Raju
to reach his century (out of 133) was a massive blow, but sadly,
not half as big as the one currently being administered to Eng-
Thanks : The Independent [February 15, 1993, Monday]
UMass, Feb 16, 1993