In four weeks on tour, Nasser Hussain has won the hearts and minds of India, but not yet a Test match. He has two more chances, though, with tomorrow's second Test here being played on a surface half-way between rolled mud and a tennis court at Roland Garros, they are diminishing at every turn.
Were it not for valuable Test championship points, it might not matter. As has been evident from day one, this has been a tour for spin, though, unfortunately for England, their tweaks and twists are proving more able off the field than on. With his "India, the soul of cricket" eulogy winning Hussain wide acclaim around the bazaars and clubs, you get the impression England have forgotten the purpose of their visit, which is to try and win matches.
A full complement to pick from might aid their cause and news that Ashley Giles has pronounced himself "happy", after bowling in the nets, might have sparked off a celebration, had any strong drink been at hand in this "dry" state of Gujarat, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi.
While prohibition seems old-fashioned, there is circumstantial evidence that it may be linked to cricketing excellence. The Kathiawar peninsular about 100 miles south-west of Ahmedabad, has produced some of the world's great cricketers, including Hanif, Mushtaq and Sadiq Mohammad. Although born in this arid part of India, each subsequently played for Pakistan following the long division that followed Partition in 1947.
Following the partition of his Achilles tendon last August, Giles is by no means certain to play, and yesterday the left-arm spinner followed a 40-minute bowl in the nets with a similar period soaking his troublesome left ankle in an ice-bucket. In time-honoured deference to such situations, England say they will wait to see how he copes at today's practice session before making the final decision over who joins Richard Dawson and the other bowlers picked.
With 17 first-class overs since August, playing Giles will be a huge risk, especially over a five-day Test where he will be expected to bowl at least 70 overs. If he does make the team, he will be part of a five-pronged attack, a balance Hussain stressed would be necessary at the Sardar Patel stadium.
"The heat has gone up five degrees from Mohali, so we will need at least five bowlers," said Hussain yesterday. "Looking at the pitch, which looks slow but will turn. I expect to play at least two spinners. Getting the balance of bowlers right is the key to a pitch like this."
Considering that the failings in the last Test pointed towards the batting, retaining a fifth bowler is a bold decision. A far safer option would have been to drop Ormond, for whom this pitch will spell nothing but bouts of head-shaking, and bring in Michael Vaughan at six to beef up the order.
If two spinners play, it is difficult to see how Vaughan can get a game, unless Matthew Hoggard is left out and the new ball is entrusted to Andrew Flintoff and Craig White. Unless a captain is confident his spinners will dominate, something not even Shane Warne has managed in India, leaving a tireless and determined opening bowler out would be madness.
Reverse-swing, a speciality of White's, could play a part after spin. Javagal Srinath, India's best pace bowler, is also a practitioner, and one looking to make his mark now that he has recovered from the broken hand he received batting during the unofficial Test in South Africa.
Now that he has served his ban, India are also likely to play Virender Sehwag, the young batsman inadvertently dragged into the row that briefly threatened to split world cricket. He can also bowl off-spin, a skill that could be superfluous should Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble get the turn local fundis (experts) are predicting.
Ironically, the spinning ball may help England's batsmen cope better, as you sense the game plans and strokes worked out by them and their coach, Duncan Fletcher, have all been based on the turning ball. As that did not happen at Mohali, instant adjustments were necessary, something young James Foster, certain of another chance to play here, was slow to work out.
"I will leave it up to the individual over how they cope with playing the spinners," said Hussain. "In South Africa and Australia, cricket is quicker-paced, in that boundaries seem to keep the game ticking along. Here it's different and, as the bloke mowing the nets said to me, playing here is all about discipline. But that does not mean everyone should go into a bunker."
Anticipating that the pitch will play similarly to the one in England's three-day game in Hyderabad – a slow, low-bouncing turner – the England captain has predicted some "turgid cricket." He could be right, though not if the two umpires, Ian Robinson and A V Jayaprakash, are true to form.
Last winter, Jayaprakash stood with Peter Manuel in the now infamous Test match at Galle, where England were on the wrong end of six poor decisions. Although most of the howlers were attributable to Manuel, Jayaprakash made enough for England's batsmen here to be worried every time the ball hits the pad.
ENGLAND (Possible): N Hussain (capt), M E Trescothick, M A Butcher, G P Thorpe, M R Ramprakash, A Flintoff, C White, J S Foster (wkt), A F Giles, R K Dawson, M J Hoggard.Reuse content