Leicestershire v Indians, Match Report
Geoffrey Dean - 1-3 June 1996
Day 1: Azharuddin dashes off century to end unease
An uneasy week for Mohammad Azharuddin ended with a scintillating 86-ball hundred here yesterday, his second fifty coming off only 27 balls. Heavily criticised by the Indian press for his role in the Navjot Sidhu affair, the captain's riposte was felt most painfully by Leicestershire's spinners.
He hit six straight sixes off them, two off Matthew Brimson disappearing over the pavilion and out of the ground to the delight of a 2,000 crowd, most of them Indian.
Sidhu, on arriving back in India, spoke of his ``humilia- tion'' at the hands of one or two players. According to a source close to the Indian team, this arose when some team-mates, including Azha ruddin, laughed at him when they saw him padded up in the dressing room at Old Trafford immediately before the third one-day inter national.
Sidhu, the story went, thought he was playing, while the others knew he was not. However, the team's manager, Sandeep Patil, de- clared yesterday that Sidhu had been informed of his non- selection straight after practice.
Although Azharuddin's powers of communication are in question, his batting still appears formidable, particularly against spin to which he used his feet with electric speed. He did, nevertheless, have an easy time of it as the pitch was a shirt- front and he received just three balls from David Millns and none at all from Alan Mullally.
The new cry of ``c'mon Redback'' could be heard at Grace Road yesterday as fielders tried to gee-up Mullally. It is an exhor- tation that the England players might well be repeating some time this summer. Indeed, Leicestershire's coach, Jack Birk- enshaw, is certain his 6ft 5in left-arm fast bowler will be picked for the Edgbaston Test.
Mullally's form this season has been outstanding. Yet in February, the Anglo-Australian nearly died when he was bitten by the highly poisonous Australian spider, the red-back, hence the nickname. His high level of fitness was probably what saved him, for the spider is a known killer.
Mullally, spending the winter in Perth, was walking barefoot in his parent's garage in Perth when he was bitten. ``I thought I was a gonner'' he recalls. ``My face and throat were on fire and I passed out.''
Mullally lost a stone in weight and the poison will take a year to leave his body. Leicestershire were worried, but Mullally's mother believes it was the best thing that could have hap- pened to him.
He was training so hard every day that she felt he was becoming washed out, so Mullally, forced to rest, came back to England fresh for the new season.
According to his Leicestershire captain, James Whit aker, he has bowled significantly better this summer than last. Why? Be- cause he has been more focused and mature, says Whitak- er. ``He's put a lot more thought into how he's going to bowl to in- dividual batsmen rather than just running in. We've worked hard on getting his field placings absolutely right.''
On a technical note, Birkenshaw says Mullally has got closer in to the stumps this year and has managed to veer away without being warned for pitch encroachment. Birkenshaw also feels he is now bowling a fuller length and getting the ball to swing in from a line of off-stump or just outside.
Graham Gooch dropped in yesterday morning before continuing on to Manchester for the selection meeting. Gooch knew there was not much to be learned from watching Mullally yesterday on such a flat pitch, but he wanted a chat with Whitaker about him. Gooch is a known fan of his. So, too, are David Lloyd and Mike Atherton, who were impressed by his bowling at Old Trafford last month.
Day 2: Mullally takes a back seat against Indians
Second day of three: India (307-3 dec & 123-2) lead Leics (318-5 dec) by 112 runs
Acting captain Phil Simmons gave Alan Mullally just eight overs at the Indians over the weekend, all on Saturday morning. Quite right too. As Simmons said, why show the enemy your hand on the eve of battle?
On a dry pitch that had nothing in it for the pace bowlers, but some turn for the spinners, Mullally would have been happy to take a rest and try to spot any weaknesses in the Indian batsmen.
His captain, James Whitaker, says that a factor in Mullally's excellent form this season has been the extra thought given to getting individual batsmen out.
His in-swinger has been the key. Apart from bowling it more, he has, according to Leicestershire manager Jack Birkenshaw, been getting it to come in from on or outside off stump. Pre- viously, it tended to start on middle stump and miss leg.
One fine in-swinger must have been desperately close to having Vikram Rathore lbw, but Dickie Bird, granted life membership of his old county yesterday, gave the benefit of the doubt to the batsman.
Rathore profited to make 71, and yesterday another 91 off 117 balls, which gives him 564 first-class runs for the tour.
His front-foot technique was ideal for this pitch against an attack that included a debutant, the Durham-born medium pacer, Dominic Williamson.
Rathore hit the ball hard, but also in the air behind square on the off side, a fault that England are well aware of.
The crowd of 4,500 was the biggest for a first-class match at Grace Road since 1990 - when India were last here. It was not just a memorable day for Mullally, but also for Vince Wells. Up all Saturday night as his wife gave birth at 5am, he then pro- ceeded to open both the batting and bowling. He played well for his 52 before edging the impressive Javagal Srinath to first slip.
His fellow opener, Darren Maddy, whom Dean Jones rates as the best young English player he has seen, looked highly compact for his 61 in 48 overs before Anil Kumble had him picked up off bat-pad. This was Kumble's only wicket and he is clearly not yet reproducing his finest form.
The best batting of the day came from Aftab Habib and Simmons, who together put on 103 in 17 overs. Habib, whose 90 came off 124 balls, was gloriously uninhibited, driving on the up with wristy power.
One of his three sixes almost cleared the pavilion, a feat that Mohammad twice managed in his 86-ball hundred on Saturday.
The ease with which Habib belted Paras Mhambrey through the covers and back over his head for six has probably convinced the Indian selectors that Mhambrey must make way for the replace- ment Salil Ankola for the first Test. Ankola showed he has an extra yard of pace.
Only Middlesex will know why they released a player of Habib's talent. He now has over 400 first-class runs for the season
and looks an outstanding prospect. He was denied his hundred only by a run-out when Paul Nixon sent him back.
Even the Indians were impressed. Azharuddin complimented Habib on his innings after the declaration.
Simmons, who made his 58 at almost a run a ball, hit the ball with typically brutally power, the unfortunate Mhambrey being hammered over long-on on to the top of a marquee.
Day 3: Azharuddin hits back at critics
Indians (305-3 dec & 273-3) drew with Leics (318-5 dec)
All the criticism of Mohammad Azharuddin over the Navjot Sidhu affair clearly got to the Indian captain on a day when rain prevented any play after lunch. When he retired hurt Racing for 72 yesterday, it was not just tennis elbow that was caus- ing him pain. This shy, gentle man was, it transpired, suffering much mental anguish.
Having remained silent last week over the much-publicised depar- ture home of Sidhu, Azharuddin walked into the Grace Road press box yesterday afternoon to make a statement. Later, he talked more candidly, to the great surprise of Indian journalists.
A volley of attacks has been fired off at Azharuddin in the Indi- an press since Sidhu went, notably from retired players Ka- pil Dev and Manoj Prabakhar. Anger in Sidhu's home state of the Punjab yesterday culminated in the burning in Amritsar of effigies of Azharuddin, the only Muslim in the side.
Kapil wrote in the Indian Express that ``the situation must be very grave indeed for a man of Sidhu's easy disposition to walk out''. But Kapil and Azharuddin are known to have seldom seen eye to eye. Nor have Sidhu and the Indian captain, once close friends, got on over the last two years.
The manner of Sidhu's leaving was predictably labelled ``unfor- tunate''
The content of Azharuddin's longish statement was not as signi- ficant as the fact that he had made it, no doubt to try to placate public opinion at home.
There was an admission that ``in order for my team to focus on their task, I need to clear up matters''. Also that ``I enjoy the support and confidence of my team and management''.
The manner of Sidhu's leaving was predictably labelled ``unfortunate''; his dropping was a decision taken on cricketing grounds by all four members of the selection committee; and it was revealed that attempts to make him change his mind about returning home had failed. Team manager Sandeep Patil said he would still have Sidhu back.
Azharuddin later strongly denied that he had laughed at Sidhu when he saw him padded up just before the start of the third one-day international, for which he had been dropped.
Azharuddin referred to Sidhu's ``schoolboyish sulking'' in his Indian newspaper column last week, yesterday adding that ``you should retire gracefully, like David Boon. So many retirements have been on a very sad note. You've got to take the good memories with the bad''.
Azharuddin's comments were clearly also directed at Prabakhar, who retired in a fit of pique after being dropped during the World Cup. Azharuddin's biographer, Harsha Bhogle, said the captain's apparent failure to placate both Sidhu and Prabhakar after their demotion underlined his limited powers of communica- tion.
Bhogle added that Azharuddin's captaincy had changed since 1994 from being ``tolerant'' to ``demanding''. Unpopularity in some quarters had followed, although his hold on the position was not in question.
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