Revitalised England enter India's snake-pit wary of forbidden fruit
Tourists will make two changes as they attempt to win at Eden Gardens for only the second time
England have usually found Eden Gardens full of serpents. A solitary Test victory 35 years ago has been surrounded by five numbing draws and three salutary defeats. Yet the tourists have abundant reasons to believe that they can enhance their record in the third Test against India which begins tomorrow, most of them gathered in the second in Mumbai a week ago.
All they have to do is ensure that they are not suckered yet again by the forbidden fruit of spin. From being hapless losers, in the conventional and populist sense, England have suddenly come alive again. By contrast, India have been confronted by their own shortcomings which are often manifested in the unfortunate manner that when the going gets tough they collapse in a heap.
It is probable that England will make two changes to a winning side, which is out of recent character but will demonstrate a ruthless streak that is wholly necessary if they are to prevail in this series. Stuart Broad, the golden boy of the team and the vice-captain, looks likely to be dropped in favour of his fellow fast bowler, Steve Finn (below). Ian Bell, out of form but vastly experienced, will return in place of Jonny Bairstow following a brief break at home after the birth of his first child.
England have been keen to field Finn in their starting XI since the series started but an untimely thigh injury, sustained in the second warm-up game, has kept him out of the reckoning. He was fortunate to be allowed to show his recovery in a match for an England Performance Programme squad which happened to be in Mumbai last week and in two bursts in the nets on the Eden Gardens square yesterday.
It would be a considerable step to omit Broad, who has been part of several splendid victories, many of which he helped to engineer. But he has been out of sorts on this tour and Finn is at present quicker and more hostile. In an attack which will contain two seamers and two spinners, Finn may give England an edge with the new ball that may equally yield an early wicket or two.
Finn, without being nailed on in the XI, pronounced himself ready to go yesterday. He said: "Fast bowlers have a role to play in the subcontinent. We have seen world-class bowlers come here and perform, they do take wickets and they find ways of taking wickets. I feel that fast bowlers are underrated in these conditions."
For the second match in succession the Test will be played on a used pitch. Such an occurrence would be unthinkable in England where groundsmen spend most of the year fretting about the strip of turf on which that year's Test is to be played, mollycoddle it for six months and then spend a month getting it just right, weather permitting.
The strip for this match was played on barely a fortnight ago and it shows. Though it held up well then with Gujarat's seventh-wicket pair detaining Bengal long enough to add 149 runs and save the match it will not be pristine. These are Test match bowlers and a low scoring, slow affair is in prospect.
There have been daily rows about the pitch with the wily old curator Prabir Mukherjee threatening to resign at one point after being instructed to prepare a rank turner. It means, of course, that he can deflect blame if a rank turner it turns out to be and on a used pitch the ball has a chance.
After their heroic deeds in Mumbai, it will be fascinating to see if England's spin twins, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, will be as effective here. Panesar likes a faster, bouncier surface and this will be much slower, so he will have to adapt accordingly. It will be a measure of his progress.
The venerable Mukherjee who clearly likes the fuss he has caused can also rise above it. He was seen getting into a taxi and leaving the ground at 10.30am yesterday. Presumably, he thinks there is nothing else he can do or has already done too much. His assessment is straightforward: good cricket will be rewarded.
India, having won one and lost one, retained their squad of 15 but may omit Harbhajan Singh from the Mumbai XI. As with England, most of their batsmen have been out of form, with most of their runs being scored by Chetashwar Pujara, who is vying with Alastair Cook for time spent at the crease in this series. Cook leads narrowly having batted for 10 hours and 45 minutes to Pujara's mere 10 hours and 22 minutes.
The toss will be important but then it was in Mumbai when England lost it. They also did in their only win here in 1977 when Tony Greig unfeasibly batted for more than seven hours in making 103 after the pace of the young tearaway Bob Willis had undermined India's first innings taking 5 for 27 in their 155 all out.
Swann and Panesar will be the key in this match, although England's middle order really do have to begin to make a substantial contribution. There has been not a single 50 from England's two, three, five or six in the series so far. Now is the time to allay the spin serpent and then England can win at Eden Gardens again. You had better Adam and Eve it.
India (probable) M S Dhoni, G Gambhir, V Sehwag, C A Pujara, S R Tendulkar, V Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, P P Ojha, I Sharma.
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.
Pitch report Used for a Ranji Trophy match a fortnight ago, it seems certain to be sporting fairly early. It may take spin on the first day, it certainly will by the third and, although progress will be slow, an early finish is possible.
TV Sky Sports 1, tomorrow from 3.30am.
Odds: Ind 6-5, Draw 11-5, Eng 11-4.
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