These are confusing times for an England cricketer; even before he sits down to attempt to comprehend the safety and security aspects of his return to India. Six weeks ago in Antigua Kevin Pietersen's side were preparing for a $1m per man winner-takes-all Twenty20 festival match where the result was everything – yesterday, however, they were frantically trying to get in last-minute practice for a Test match in which the outcome, in many people's eyes, is irrelevant.
Pietersen's four months as England captain have been rather eventful but neither he nor his squad want the horrific events of last month's attacks in Mumbai, the team's brief return home or the uncertainty over whether they would return to India to act as an excuse in tomorrow's first Test here. In an attempt to draw a line under these unsettling events and to focus on the forthcoming Test series, England's touring party held a meeting yesterday morning at which they outlined their reasons for returning to India, and the way forward.
In a pre-written statement Alastair Cook said that the England team had returned to offer support to the Indian people, to extend their sincerest sympathy to the families who lost loved ones and, as cricketers first and foremost, to win a Test series against India. As a gesture of solidarity the team agreed to donate 50 per cent of their match fees for the game – approximately £35,000 in total – to the families of the Mumbai attack victims.
When confronted by the media yesterday Cook and Pietersen were keen to talk about cricketing issues rather than the security measures that have been put in place, but when 5,000 police officers, including 300 highly trained commandoes, have been assigned to guard them the topic is difficult to ignore. Among the crack troops protecting Pietersen's squad are men from the Rapid Action Force (RAF), the Special Action Group (SAG) and the Quick Reaction Team (QRT). Pietersen will be hoping their presence is not too distracting and does not lead to a spate of lbws.
"It may be viewed by many that we are in a no-lose situation but that is a way of negatively looking at the situation and finding excuses," Pietersen said. "I don't want any excuses over what has happened.
"I said to the guys that I want them to approach this match like a Test in England. In my four years with England we have often finished a one-day series against a country and had a week or 10 days off. We have then travelled on a Monday, practised on a Tuesday and Wednesday and played a Test on the Thursday. This is what we are doing here.
"What has happened has happened, we can't control that. But we are international cricketers that are proud to wear the three lions. We are playing two Tests in India and we are in a very privileged position, and we have to deal with it in a professional manner."
It is hard to believe India's players have spent much of the past fortnight preparing fortomorrow's encounter, but it is safe to say England's have had a more troubled journey to the M A Chidambaram Stadium. The hot, muggy and oppressive climate may take England's players some time to acclimatise to but it could offer the team's fast bowlers unexpected assistance. England's record in Chennai – three wins and a draw in seven previous Tests – offers encouragement too. Pitches in India are generally unresponsive for pacemen but this one is hard, which should offer Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison bounce at the start of the Test. The muggy, overcast conditions should also help James Anderson to swing the ball.
The absence of the injured Ryan Sidebottom and a rehabilitating Stuart Broad means that England will give a Test debut to either Amjad Khan or Graeme Swann. And with the conditions being as they are, it seems that Khan, a Denmark-born fast bowler with Pakistani heritage who plays for Kent, will get the nod ahead of the off-spinning Swann.
Pietersen and Peter Moores, the England coach, will have a couple of other tricky decisions to make before tomorrow morning. The first concerns the batting, and whether Owais Shah's impressive form in the one-day series merits a place in the side ahead of Paul Collingwood, or even Ian Bell.
The last concerns England's two travelling wicketkeepers – Matt Prior and Tim Ambrose. Prior kept wicket in the recent one-day series and struggled with the bat, while Ambrose played unconvincingly in England's last Test, the victory over South Africa at The Oval. The selectors will probably opt for Collingwood, Bell and Prior.
If Khan plays it would leave England with a long tail, which is not a good thing when your openers, Andrew Strauss and Cook, have had little middle practice in the past three months. The selectors may fudge this situation by batting Shah at six, Flintoff at seven and Prior at eight. But the move would leave Pietersen with only three seamers and Collingwood in debilitating yet seamer-friendly conditions.
"My head has been given a full working out over the past few days," admitted Pietersen. "But now the cricket brain has been switched on and decisions have to be made. With the rain around I don't know how much cricket we will get before the Test. We might have to adopt a 'best when fresh' approach."
India's strength is that they have every corner covered. The retirement of Sourav Ganguly gives Yuvraj Singh the chance to assert himself but Mahendra Singh Dhoni has seven classy batsmen at his disposal.
The Indian captain also has bowlers to exploit all conditions. Zaheer Khan can swing the ball around corners and Ishant Sharma can extract similar bounce to Harmison or Flintoff. Munaf Patel is a good seamer too. Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra are as good a spin pairing as any in Test cricket. The biggest dilemma facing India is who to leave out.
India (probable): M S Dhoni (capt), V Sehwag, G Gambhir, R Dravid, S R Tendulkar, V V S Laxman, Y Singh, H Singh, Z Khan, I Sharma, M M Patel.
England (probable): K P Pietersen (capt), A J Strauss, A N Cook, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, A Flintoff, M J Prior, A Khan, S J Harmison, J M Anderson, M S Panesar.
England's Chennai chance: Tourists' impressive record at first Test venue
1934 – England won by 202 runs
England outspun India in a low-scoring match with Hedley Verity, 13 for 153, and James Langridgem, 6 for 62, taking 17 wickets in the venue's first Test.
1952 – India won by an innings and eight runs
India returned the favour, with the left-arm leg-spin of Mulvantrai Mankad taking 12 for 108 as England were twice bowled out cheaply.
1973 – India won by four wickets
In another Test dominated by spin England were twice bundled out by the great spin triumvirate of Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Erapalli Prasanna. The trio shared 19 wickets. Pat Pocock took 8 for 142 as well.
1977 – England won by 200 runs
A low-scoring Test ended with India bowled out for 83 in their second innings. On this occasion Bedi, Chandrasekhar and Prassana were outbowled by John Lever, who took 7 for 77 in the match and Derek Underwood, with 6 for 44.
1982 – Draw
A high-scoring, tedious match reached an uneventful conclusion with England bowling all 10 fielders in India's second innings. Gundappa Viswanath scored a double-century for India and Graham Gooch struck 127 for England.
1985 – England won by nine wickets
Essex's Neil Foster bowled England to a memorable victory with match figures of 11 for 163. Graeme Fowler and Mike Gatting each scored a double hundred.
1993 – India won by innings and 22 runs
Sachin Tendulkar set the tone, scoring 165 as India amassed a first-innings total of 560. Anil Kumble then took eight wickets as England were thumped. Interestingly, the game featured one of Chris Lewis's finest performances for England. He scored 117 in the second innings.