England intend to use the third Test match to put a smile back on the country's face. If they defeat India to go 3-0 ahead in the series, they will lend official status to the unofficial billing they have had for some while as the best team in the world but Andrew Strauss, their captain, yesterday saw a much broader appeal.
With the country's cities in the grip of riots and youths marauding overnight near the team's Birmingham hotel, Strauss said the match provided the players with a different kind of opportunity. "Clearly there are big things going on in the country at the moment," he said. "This is a chance for cricket to provide a feelgood factor and show that not everything out there is bad.
"Let's divorce the cricket match from what is going on. When you watch these things on television it's horrific and it's far from England's proudest moment. All of us agree on that and are incredibly disappointed to see it happen. But in terms of preparing for a cricket match it hasn't affected us much."
Trouble flared on Monday night in Birmingham city centre close to the team hotel and only a mile from the Edgbaston ground. Although some of the players had gone out for an early dinner they were advised by their security manager to return to their hotel.
Gangs of youths, almost all dressed in hoodies and wearing balaclavas or scarves pulled over their faces, stormed the city's main shopping areas. A few were as young as 10, most looked 15 or 16. According to some of those caught up in the trouble their main focus of attention was not fighting or protesting but breaking into top end city centre stores to steal clothes, computers or phones. "I didn't feel intimidated," said one Indian journalist who is in the city to cover the Test. "They didn't seem to be threatening people."
Both Strauss and MS Dhoni, India's captain, said they saw no reason why the match should not proceed as normal. Dhoni said: "Wherever you are, if things like this happen it's sad. I don't think there's much we can do as individuals or cricketers, so we're sticking to what we can do – practising for the game tomorrow. We are cricketers, not professional guys who know about security – so let's leave it to them. They will be the ones who decide what needs to be done."
Warwickshire County Cricket Club issued a statement yesterday morning confirming that the match would go ahead as scheduled. There will be 300 stewards on duty and a much smaller police contingent. The ground, redeveloped at a cost of £32m, will be full for the first three days with a capacity of 25,000.
Cricket matches tend not to need the heavy policing of football. At Lord's earlier this month when England played India in the first Test of this series there were no police officially on duty at the match.
Strauss said: "The way we have looked at these sort of circumstances is that our security manager is there for a reason and he has got to determine what is safe for us, either to go away on tour or play a game of cricket. So far he has said it's 100 per cent safe."
England are hot favourites to win the match. They will have one change from the team which won at Trent Bridge last week, with Ravi Bopara replacing the injured Jonathan Trott. India will have both Gautam Gambhir and, for the first time this summer, the thrilling Virender Sehwag back to open the batting. But that hardly made a dent in England's odds.
England (probable): A J Strauss (capt), A N Cook, I R Bell, K P Pietersen, E J G Morgan, R G Bopara, M J Prior (wkt), T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson.
India (probable): M S Dhoni (capt & wkt), V Sehwag, G Gambhir, R Dravid, S R Tendulkar, V V S Laxman, V Kohli, S Sreesanth, P Kumar, A Mishra, I Sharma.
Umpires S Taufel (Aus) and S Davis (Aus).
Pitch report Looking green, though that may change overnight. Still likely to offer encouragement to seam bowling, though will probably be on the slow side.
Weather forecast Starting overcast with light drizzle, becoming sunny in the afternoon before light rain returns in evening. Maximum temperature 20C.
TV times Sky Sports 1 10:30am-7pm. Highlights: Channel Five 7-8pm.
Odds England 6-5; India 4-1; Draw 11-8.Reuse content