Graeme Swann plays down power of the pitch as England look to seize the moment in India

Spinner warns against 'obsession' with Nagpur wicket as hosts try to stave off historic defeat

Nagpur

Looking protectively over his pitch, Pravin Hingnikar declared that it would definitely last for five days. That seemed all well and good but what everyone wanted to know at the Vidarbha CA ground today was when it would start to take spin.

"Today," he said and smiled archly in that way of cricket ground curators and gentlemen thieves. The two statements did not necessarily seem complementary. If it turns quickly, in both senses of that phrase, the fourth Test might all be done and dusted by the fourth day, with both sides scrambling for a safe foothold in a minefield.

The state of the business part of the playing surface has dominated all predictions about the match, at least in those intervals when India's team is not being derided. It looked innocuous enough from the edge of the square today but then two days with a bit of watering and a hot sun would be tantamount to cosmetic surgery, which is not always an improvement on the original.

India, 2-1 behind and needing to win to preserve a formidable home record, may as well gamble everything on a pitch that guarantees victory for one side or the other. England seem unsure what to expect. But Graeme Swann, the off-spinner of whom much will be expected, pointed out that England's two victories in the series had little to do with the pitch.

"I don't think anybody could look at that wicket we've just played on and call it a rank turner from day one," he said. "It was a very good Test pitch, it did very little for the seamers or spinners on the first two days and broke up gradually as the game went on and was turning quite nicely by the end. Any obsession about pitches that have been ordered or whatever should have been banished because Kolkata produced an exceptional Test pitch."

England have a conflicting attitude to history, which of course they are on the verge of making. On the one hand they are professing to ignore it, on the other they want to learn from it.

"History here is exactly that, it's things that happened in the past, we don't worry about that," said Swann, referring to the well-worn observation that England have not won in India for the best part of 28 years. But then there is Sydney from early last year when England went into the final match in a similar position to this, 2-1 up and needing not to lose to clinch the series.

Swann recalled that Andrew Strauss, the side's captain then, sat the team down and reminded them of the hard work, how they would always feel let down without an outright series win. Swann and his partner, Monty Panesar, can expect a heavy workload in an unchanged England team but spinners may not be the only beneficiaries of whatever gifts the groundsman chooses to bestow at the VCA. Of the 94 wickets to have fallen in the three Test matches at the ground, 46 have been to spin, 44 to seam.

None of the matches has been close, India winning two, by 172 runs and an innings and 198 runs, and losing the other by an innings and six runs. The loss was engineered by incisive fast bowling from Dale Steyn of South Africa, who took 10 wickets in the match.

The stadium, an out-of-town edifice which has replaced the old-fashioned city centre ground where Alastair Cook and Panesar made their Test debuts in 2006, is a credit to the VCA. It puts to shame the refurbished yet shabby Eden Gardens ground in Kolkata and it actually looks as though an architect has been usefully employed.

Nagpur was the birthplace of India's first Test captain, C K Nayudu, in 1895, but has given the country no other Test cricketers since he led the side at Lord's in 1932. Now the place is set to play a decisive role in the future direction of the Test team. With public and pundit pressure mounting, it may always be known as the place where Sachin Tendulkar played his last Test match.

When the schedule was announced it was not meant to be like this. India won the first Test match of this series in Ahmedabad and they seemed on course in their much-touted revenge mission following their crushing 4-0 defeat in England last year.

Since then the tourists have been superior in all disciplines and will go into this match with a decisive edge. Their watchword, as it has been since they arrived in Mumbai, will be patience. The reputations of the respective captains and coaches have taken a different turn. M S Dhoni was the hero of the nation when he lifted the World Cup 18 months ago but his Test record has taken a battering lately and his insouciant approach to regular defeats is wearing decidedly thin.

Duncan Fletcher has been coach in more Tests than anyone else, 115 in all, 96 with England, the last 19 with India, of which 10 have now ended in defeats. Victories have come only against West Indies and New Zealand and Fletcher has spoken not a peep to justify his methods.

England's coach, Andy Flower, has hardly been loquacious on this tour, declining to appear after both victories or to explain his team's changed character. But his pep talk to his team at lunch last Saturday when India had raced to 86 for 0 was testament to his powers. Six wickets tumbled in the session afterwards.

Although Flower's prolonged public silences may be no way for a modern coach to perform, his stock has still risen, if not quite as high as that of the captain, Cook. Win this and he could probably persuade his employers that he never need speak in front of a microphone again.

Nagpur details

England (probable): A N Cook (capt), N R D Compton, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, S R Patel, M J Prior, G P Swann, S T Finn, J M Anderson, M S Panesar.

India (probable): M S Dhoni, G Gambhir, V Sehwag, C A Pujara, S R Tendulkar, V Kohli, R A Jadeja, R Ashwin, A Dinda, P P Ojha, I Sharma.

Umpires R Tucker (Aus) & K Dharmasena (S Lanka).

Pitch report A lush, green outfield suggests reverse swing may be difficult to achieve. It will turn and may bounce for the spinners as well.

TV Sky Sports 1, 3.30am-12pm Thursday.

Odds India 11-8 Draw 2-1 Eng 9-4.

Weather Warm and sunny, with a chance of showers in the afternoon. Maximum temperature: 29C.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin