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England prepare for a dogfight in Nagpur

India’s need to save face will see a doctored pitch

Gulf News

London: What a symbolic win by England, who now lead the Airtel Test series 2-1 with a match to play. Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, said recently that she wanted Kolkata to be more like London. Alastair Cook’s team granted her wish early, their brilliance dispensing with India every bit as easily as they had done at Lord’s and the Oval 15 months ago as Eden Gardens became a home from home.

Cook’s side cannot lose the series, but while that gives them some handy insurance as they head to Nagpur for the final match, it will not satisfy a team who have dominated pretty much every phase since being beaten soundly in the first Test in Ahmedabad.

A series victory, which no England team have achieved here for 28 years, is what they want. They may need to be prepared for a dogfight on a poor pitch — India will gamble all to win — to achieve that. They will face some fresh faces as well. Before play on final day, Sandip Patil, the chairman of selectors, had long conversations with Duncan Fletcher and M.S. Dhoni, even wagging his finger at India’s coach.

Under that captain-and-coach combination the team have lost 10 of their last 16 Tests, so change seems inevitable, if not the top-to-bottom clear-out suggested by a national daily, who would have sacked all but four of the current team, including Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar. In the event, they have made three changes to the squad for Thursday’s final Test.

Although England’s victory here was not as dominant as the win in Mumbai, after they lost three wickets chasing the 41 runs needed on the final morning, this was a more inclusive performance in which more team members contributed. With Steven Finn fit, they were able to get their best bowling attack on to the field for the first time in the series and to employ the bowling plans hatched on the drawing boards of Loughborough — which involved pace and reverse-swing posing an equal, if not greater threat, than spin. James Anderson had his best game in Asian conditions with match figures of six for 127. His aggression and reverse-swing made life extremely uncomfortable for all India’s batsmen and, fittingly, he took the final Indian wicket yesterday when he bowled Pragyan Ojha, the off bail taking an age to fall from its grooves.

With Ian Bell also now feeling he has contributed to this tour, England travel to Nagpur, in the heart of the country, with no selection issues whatsoever, a rarity for visiting teams, who traditionally have their strategies pulled this way then that as their teams are unpicked by the spinners and the conditions.

There is certainly a perception here that the Indian Premier League has turned them into spoiled brats who no longer love the flag, and it will need something special for many to be disabused of that. Moderate views rarely get noticed in a country as teeming with opinion as India, so most tend to be strongly for or against.

But as one prominent commentator here said off air on Sunday: when Rohit Sharma, to pick but one promising batsman yet to play a Test for India, can earn over £4.4 million (Dh25.9 million) from the IPL, why does he need to work hard to play Test cricket? There are other problems. India’s cricket has always been based on skill over fitness, which is fine if you keep delivering match-winning performances.

As the mental well-being of the two teams stands, it is impossible to see how England could lose the next Test on a decent batting pitch, which Nagpur is said to be. But India are desperate not to lose face and a Test series at home so expect a short, sharp match in Nagpur, where the ground staff are probably taking pickaxes to the track right now.

— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2012