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England's players taking part in a practice session on the eve of the fifth and final Test at Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium in Dharamsala on Wednesday. Image Credit: AFP

Dharamsala: The “stunning” Himalayan cricket ground beneath snowcapped peaks for this week’s fifth Test against India can help sweeten the disappointment for England that the series has already been lost.

Northern India’s beautiful hill town of Dharamsala is the site of the extraordinary Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium.

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England batsman Jonny Bairstow, who will win his 100th Test at the scenic stadium on Thursday, said the amazing location was more spectacular even than Cape Town’s ground at the foot of Table Mountain in South Africa.

“It’s absolutely stunning here, I don’t think there’s a more picturesque ground in the world,” Bairstow told reporters.

The backdrop is the Dhauladhar mountain range, where peaks soar to more than 4,600 metres (15,090 feet).

High altitude

The pitch sits at an altitude of 1,317 metres (4,320 feet), just a stone’s throw below the summit of Britain’s tallest mountain Ben Nevis.

It is not the world’s highest international stadium — Johannesburg, Nairobi and Kathmandu are all higher — but few other pitches are ringed by such towering peaks.

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A helicopter flying over the Dhauladhar Mountain Range near Dharamsala. Image Credit: AFP

‘Great spectacle’

“Cape Town is one of my favourite places but when you take a moment, look up at the mountains with the snow and everything that goes with it up here in Dharamshala, it’s quite incredible”, Bairstow said.

Some 5,000 England fans have arrived, packing out hotels and ready to watch the match, despite India’s unbeatable 3-1 lead in the five-match series

“It is a beautiful venue and I have come here because of that,” said Gordon Bacon, an 80-year-old who travelled from Durham in northern England and also watched India’s five-wicket win in the fourth Test in Ranchi.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere because there are going to be a lot of England supporters,” Bacon added.

“It’s a pity that we lost the series already, but it is still going to be a great spectacle.”

Nice weather expected

Some experts suggest the high altitude makes the ball faster, potentially aiding England’s veteran seamer James Anderson to achieve his two wickets needed to reach 700.

But the mountains will also usher down icy winds from the glaciers above, with forecasters suggesting the mercury will hover just above freezing on Thursday, with a risk of sleet.

“Let’s just hope for nice weather, and it will be fine,” Bacon added.

The stadium was the brainchild of India’s Minister for Sports Anurag Thakur, former president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, who transformed a rocky scrubland where cattle once grazed.

“This is the most loved venue for international players,” said Arun Dhumal, Indian Premier League chairman and younger brother of Thakur.

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England's James Anderson and Ben Stokes with staff during practice on Wednesday. Image Credit: Reuters

“Players from England, Australia, New Zealand… if there is a game in Dharamsala they want to come early and leave late.”

Consolation win

It will be only the second Test to be played in the venue, after India beat Australia by eight wickets in 2017.

England won the first international match played at the ground in 2013, beating India by seven wickets in a 50-over match.

But England fan Lawrence Adair, from London, was not confident England would repeat the result and predicted India taking the match and series 4-1, albeit with a consolation prize.

“The view sitting on the ground watching cricket surrounded by the Himalayas,”he said, “will more than make up for the loss.”