2 JANUARY 1993, Page 39


Here we go again

Frank Keating

IT IS six years since I went to a wintry Heathrow not only to wish godspeed to an England cricket touring party but to follow them up the stairway and take part in the adventure myself. David Gower was the captain then — and I know I was not the only one who felt fondly and wistfully for that good fellow when the latest England team was waved off this week for its long haul round India. For all that — romantics are sometimes overwhelmed with realism — I laid myself a private bet that, for all the charges of personal obliquity lumped upon the selectors since the team sans Goldilocks was announced, Mr Dexter's pick-your-own pals could well be reclining in triumphal togas by Easter, being fed grapes and champagne by vestal virgins in the name of the English nation. Because the Test match series against India looks very winnable indeed.

The fatuous excuse that his age, 35, was the reason for not taking Gower — when the captain is 39 and the senior spin bowler Is 40 — is what did the damage to the seemingly muddled mandarins of Lord's. Truth is, the real blame lies with another committee operating out of St John's Wood. The tabby was set among the Nurs- ery End pigeons much earlier last summer When, for no justifiable reason at all, Eng- land's banned 1989 'rebels' to South Africa were reprieved when only halfway through their five-year banishment from the Eng- land Test team. Were wartime traitors given posthumous pardons once the armistice was signed in 1945? Of course not.

So once Gatting became a 'free' man, well, what England captain is going to leave behind Mike Gatting in his prime on a tour to India? The portly enthusiast is a murder- er of mediocre bowling, as we shall see starting any time after tomorrow. This left Gower having to grab one of the last two batting places earmarked for Hick and Fairbrother, both more aggressively sprightly in the field (the tour includes eight one-dayers), and each of them only one confidence-boosting Test century away from making as much hay thereafter as Gatting surely will.

Do not forget that the young Gatting played 53 Test match innings before his first century. Hick has played only 17, Fair- brother nine. Both have it in them to bat voluptuously for England into the 21st cen- tury. In 1999, they will each be younger than Gower or Gatting are today.

For such optimistic reasons was the hearty shout of `godspeed' heard loud at Heathrow on Monday. Half a day later and, for them, different shouts and different sensations and smells . . heat and clam- our and car-hoots, smoke and dust and delirium for foreign 'stars'. Kites cawing and wheeling above, bikes below — every one of them belling a passage. Jasmine and bouganvillea . . . and cow dung and curry powder.

I last 'did' a full cricket tour to India ten years ago. Beguiling memories. Ten years before that, in 1972, Tony Lewis was Eng- land's captain. He batted very well — but not as well as he wrote about it afterwards:

Prolonged delirium ignited by the fall of an English wicket. Bat, glove, cap — out you go, through the backslaps, the floating flowers tossed from the stands and the twists of rice exploding at your feet. The bull must be properly feted — before being killed ... I walk out into the white heat over surprisingly green grass. Six fielders close in on my bat. Chandra begins his run-up, and the most deafening chant matches each step. Mirrors flash in the crowd behind his arm; pots and pans arc clanging to the right and the whole stadium of 85,000 appears to be in a crazy, rhythmical war dance. Then, abruptly, as Chandra twirls over his arm, there is silence. I hear the hall go brrrrr through the air. It is hypnotizing... '

Here we go again.