Steven Finn doubtful for fourth Test against India

England bowler misses net practice

England's final preparations for the crucial fourth Test were thrown into disarray today by injury to the fast bowler Steve Finn. With his colleague Stuart Broad already out of the match they are faced with the prospect of bringing in a player desperately short of match practice, out of form or both to play a key role in a potentially historic confrontation.

Finn has a disc strain in his lower back and did not train at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur this morning. A final decision will be taken on his place shortly before play tomorrow but the signs are extremely discouraging.

He was accompanied to the local hospital's scanning machine by Broad, where it was confirmed that a recurrence of a heel injury will definitely preclude his selection for the match.

If both are declared unfit, England will be left with a choice between Tim Bresnan, who played in the opening Test in Ahmedabad, and Graham Onions, who has been drinks carrying for most of the tour.

More improbably, they could play three spinners and pick the off-break bowler James Tredwell, recently appointed as the new Kent captain.

With the outcome of the series depending on the result at the VCA Stadium, the tourists, already 2-1 ahead, would have preferred a less dramatic eve of match.

Finn's tour has been dogged by injury and he missed the first two Tests with a thigh strain.

Recovering in time for the third, his sheer pace made an immediate difference, giving the Indian top order the hurry up even on a slow Kolkata surface. His absence would be felt because nobody else in the squad can match his speed. A different mode of attack would be necessary.

Had Broad been fit he could have been expected to take over despite his travails on this tour so far. But he is now in danger of missing the two Twenty20's which follow the Test matches and given the fact that the injury has recurred, England will be keen for him not to rush back again.

Bresnan was disappointing in the First Test defeat at Ahmedabad and might struggle to adapt to a role as one of only two seamers. But Onions has barely bowled all tour, has not played a Test since the summer and it would be a risk to ask him to keep India's batsmen quiet on what looks, against all expectations, to be a belting surface.

If these are belated difficulties that England could do without, their captain, Alastair Cook, was not to be distracted from the matter at hand.

He said today: "Everyone knows how important and how big the game is but as a player you take that emotion out of it. When you're out there you have got to make sure that you're fully focused on what your job is and the state of the game. You have to be very ruthless in that way."

Nobody is more focused than Cook as he has resoundingly confirmed with centuries in each of the three matches so far. In the past month it has elevated his status as both batsman and captain to unforeseen heights.

If Cook can once more erect a solid platform for England they could well win the match and the series 3-1. The slight worry is if he fails, as sometime he must, and the rest of the top order will have to do it without him.

India, however, may not be in good enough order to take advantage of the tourists' misfortunes.

They go into the match under a dark cloud which is being constantly replenished by a baying media.

The position of the captain, MS Dhoni, is the subject of daily speculation as is that of coach Duncan Fletcher and stellar batsman Sachin Tendulkar. Dhoni, like Cook, rises above it all.

"It's part of Indian cricket, everything is under the microscope and everyone has an opinion about cricket.

"The good thing and the bad thing is that everybody asks the questions we're also asking but nobody comes up with a solution."

Nagpur holds a special place in Cook's heart because he made his Test debut here almost seven years ago and scored a hundred.

That was at the old VCA ground in downtown Nagpur, the last Test to be played there before the gleaming new out of town edifice was built.

"It is a fantastic new stadium but for me personally the other one had a lot of sentimental value," said Cook. "But hopefully by the end of these five days this one will do as well."

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