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The Electronic Telegraph England v India, Group A
Scyld Berry - 29 May 1999

News of Zimbabwe uprising leaves England under cloud

England were left on a knife edge yesterday when their pursuit of India's total of 232 was halted by bad light and rain at 73 for three. For their assumption that they were destined to qualify for the Super Sixes had been suddenly and painfully undermined by Zimbabwe and their utterly unexpected ascendancy over South Africa.

England had been confident they had done all the hard work by defeating Sri Lanka, Kenya and Zimbabwe. But these three walkovers were not going to be enough if England, in the event of a defeat by India, had a net run-rate lower than India's and Zimbabwe's.

If bowling were the only criterion, England would merit a place in the semi-finals, let alone the Super Sixes. It is the batting which let them down against South Africa, and made their net run-rate so poor, and knocking off the runs against India has to be an enormous task for a line-up which has, for its next man in, Andrew Flintoff, yet to score a run in the tournament. The top order has not fired when it really mattered, and neither has the middle order except for Graham Thorpe.

In addition to their immediate plight in the World Cup, England's chief concern must be the batting form of their captain. Their bowling held up well yesterday and the fielding was England's best of the tournament, but another failure by Alec Stewart once again put immense strain on the top of their batting order.

It is not that Stewart's reactions are going at the age of 36: the continued excellence of his wicketkeeping denies such a charge. But he has become ever more fallible in his footwork, and opposing bowlers have worked it out.

Stewart made his reputation as an opening batsman by standing up to the quickest West Indians, much as Graham Gooch had done, and fighting their short balls with fire. Now new-ball bowlers are pitching a fuller length at him, drawing him forward into the drive.

His dismissal yesterday was a classic example of the new fallibility. India's windmilling opening bowler, Debashish Mohanty, lured Stewart with his unremarkable pace into a front-foot drive which only succeeded in edging the ball to second slip. And at the time of the incident, as the police would say, the most telling clue was that Stewart's front foot was only just in front of the popping crease.

When Graeme Hick was dismissed first ball for a similar offence, edging into his own wicket, England were up against it. Stewart had won the toss for the fifth time in a row, just as Mark Taylor had done in the Ashes series last winter, and decided to field. But after India had batted in sunshine, ever-darkening cloud came up when England replied and encouraged the ball to move all over Edgbaston's shop, making batting vastly more difficult.

England kept India's total within bounds - in conditions which applied at the time though were soon to change - by never allowing a partnership to grow out of hand, by refusing to allow a single batsman to reach fourth gear or beyond. Ajay Jadeja, with his quick hands, was a slippery customer at the end of India's innings. Otherwise England took a wicket when they truly needed to.

Mark Ealham was again the pick of England's bowlers, not bowling straight through at the quietest period of an innings as he used to, starting towards the end of the first 15 overs, but when the heat was threatening to be fierce. Sachin Tendulkar was forced by Ealham's accuracy into taking the liberty of coming down the pitch at him and sliced close to wide mid-off, before pulling him to deep mid- wicket.

From their greater height Alan Mullally and Angus Fraser appreciated some occasional lift. Fraser lacked rhythm in his opening spell at India's left-handers but came back to deliver his last two overs for one run, a fine contribution for the 30th and 32nd overs, at right-handers. The pair who made up England's fifth bowler, Adam Hollioake and Flintoff, were expensive in the match context, conceding 62 between them for one fortunate wicket, when Rahul Dravid decided to hit in the air for the first time, an unnatural game for him.

India's opening pair of left-handers were sketchy in the extreme. It was as well for them that they did not have to bat under the cloud of afternoon. Saurav Ganguly is one of the best batsman when the ball is below waist-height, an elegant driver on the front foot, and one of the worst when it is above.

Then the news of Zimbabwe's fine progress began to reach Birmingham as their second-wicket pair put together a competitive total. No alarms as yet, but it was the first inkling that one of these two teams would miss out, turning it into an all too crucial contest between Them and Us.

The screw turned from the moment that England began their innings and simultaneously South Africa's wickets started to fall - as did England's too. Stewart and Hick went in Mohanty's opening spell, bringing in Thorpe to partner Nasser Hussain. Thorpe achieved some momentum with some withering drives off Mohanty, but that only served to bring on Venkatesh Prasad to partner Javagal Srinath, a formidable combination under cloud and on a pitch of ever more uneven bounce.

The darkness began to close in on England's batsmen and their World Cup hopes. News came through of South Africa's utterly unexpected collapse to six wickets down for next to nothing. As if in sympathy, Hussain was dismissed as well, chopping into his stumps Ganguly's first ball.

It was with some relief that Thorpe and Neil Fairbrother accepted the umpires' invitation to go for bad light. Rain was in the air, too, in addition to much foreboding. England desperately wanted some sunshine to banish a nightmare in the making.

30 May 1999

England's sorry farewell allows India to party on

India (232-8) bt England (169) by 63 runs

The carnival of cricket came to Edgbaston yesterday, as the World Cup organisers had hoped, and England were cast in the role of maiden aunts. More than 10,000 Indian supporters frolicked noisily in front of the pavilion after their team had completed a 63-run victory that guaranteed their involvement in the Super Sixes, and eliminated the host nation on run rate.

It was a miserable batting performance by England, who resumed their rain-affected innings on 73 for three and were dismissed for 169. In the six previous World Cups they reached at least the second stage and the final three times. Now their players can return to their counties this week, having been exposed as mere pretenders.

England's worst performance in this competition was compounded by the extraordinary victory Zimbabwe achieved against South Africa at Chelmsford on Saturday, which takes them into the second round with four points. How abrupt the turnaround was. When England beat Zimbabwe by seven wickets in Nottingham last Tuesday, there seemed to be no way they could not qualify.

If it was a debacle for the team, it was also a debacle for the game at large. The England and Wales Cricket Board made it clear in their presentation of the tournament that this summer was going to be a celebration of cricket. There may still be a celebration but England will not be participants. And the fact is, they don't deserve to be.

``We've been found wanting,'' said David Lloyd, the coach whose contract expired last night. ``We bowled well and we fielded excellently, but to win World Cups you need to win the kind of games we had against South Africa and India, and we fell well short. When we needed to stand up and be counted we weren't up to it.''

No coach ever spoke truer words and it is a measure of Lloyd's honesty that he preferred truth, however cruel it looks in print, to any number of bland evasions. He may not be the only man to depart. Alec Stewart's position as captain will be considered next week, ``when the dust has settled'', according to David Graveney, the chairman of selectors.

``We need some time to think about things and it's important that he has a bit of time as well.''

Stewart won the toss in every one of England's five group games, so he can have no complaints about the outcome. In addition to yesterday's pummelling, they were torn apart by the South Africans, who recorded a win by 122 runs at the Oval. On both occasions England bowled well and held catches, only to surrender their sword with the bat.

Whether Stewart should have batted first at Edgbaston is a point worth consideration. He must have known the forecast was for afternoon showers to follow bright morning sun, when the Indians had the friendliest batting conditions. He surely knew also that England's recent attempts to chase targets have been feeble.

The captain will also consider his own form. He went into this tournament desperately short of runs and, though he made 88 against Sri Lanka in the opening game, his subsequent four innings have brought only 37. It was his early departure to a slip catch on Saturday afternoon, followed two balls later by the wicket of Graeme Hick, that convinced the Indians they could defend a score of 232 for eight.

Lloyd always supported his men in public but there is no doubt he had Hick's dismissal in mind when he spoke so damningly of the batting. Quite frankly, it was a disgraceful way to go, an abdication. Playing with a crooked bat, a foot away from his body, he deflected the ball on to the stumps and presented Debashish Mohanty with a precious wicket.

It was Hick's third successive failure, each one the result of an appalling stroke, and we have surely seen the last of him now as an England player. Stewart has spoken admiringly in the past of Hick as a world-class batsman but players of that rank are rarely complicit in their own dismissals. He has never been a truly world-class player, though he has played some lordly innings. It's all in the books, boys. Take a look at them sometime.

After Hussain had also played on, to give Sourav Ganguly the first of his three wickets, everything depended on the two left-handers when play resumed at 11.15, only half an hour late. Graham Thorpe, alas, was unlucky. Javagal Srinath, bowling round the wicket, drifted a ball into him that would have missed the leg stump and the batsman looked up to see Javed Akhtar, the Pakistani umpire, raise his finger.

All purpose now drained out of English veins. Andrew Flintoff carted Anil Kumble for six over midwicket and fell lbw two balls later. He could have gone, for an equally reasonable appeal by the same bowler, when he was one. Adam Hollioake, baffled by Kumble, was then lbw, hit on the back leg as he essayed a grotesque sweep.

It was becoming a procession. Ealham put a first-class stamp on the card he sent to Mohammad Azharuddin at slip, and signed it ``Regards, Mark''. Neil Fairbrother, frustrated beyond endurance, was caught behind on the charge. Darren Gough picked out Kumble on the midwicket boundary and Mullally's famed powers of resistance were undermined by Srinath, who ripped out two of his stumps with a snorter.

England, it was said, would prosper on English pitches, where the ball swings under cloud cover and ``does a bit'' off the pitch. Well as Gough and Mullally bowled, and hard as Ealham tried, there are few men in the world as skilled as Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad on these pitches. In Mohanty they found admirable assistance.

Ganguly was man of the match for his three wickets - why can't English batsmen bowl this effectively? - and for his 40 runs, well made after Stewart had won the toss. Rahul Dravid made another half-century, and Ajay Jadeja made useful runs in the last five overs. India finished with 30 fewer runs than Azharuddin wanted but he was happy at the end. After losing their first two matches India picked themselves up in a manner that does them credit.

Their supporters enjoyed it enormously. It seemed that everyone in the crowd, give or take a few hundred inaudible Englishmen, was Indian or British of Indian descent. They brought colour to a drab day, just as their team of enchanters had made England's dull dogs look ordinary. This was a rout, and closer to Madras than a plain korma.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at et@telegraph.co.uk