Come Thursday morning it will be about winning the first session, says Swann

The officials from the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) make you feel at home. Cricket is priority at Jamtha, on the outskirts of this growing city. Stray cows outside the airport might rekindle memories from the past but the stadium is a reminder that life has moved on.

Modernisation appears pronounced as you drive to this excellent cricket venue which promises to set up a fierce contest from Thursday. India must win to square the series.

The curator, former Vidarbha all-rounder Praveen Hingnikar, has been gagged by the Board. No, he would reveal nothing. He would officially speak on the fifth day. So, we assume it would last that long. So much for modernisation of cricket in India!

At many grounds overseas, the curator provides all technical details connected with the pitch preparation, from clay content and bounce to its likely behaviour.

Here, however, things are always different. Basic information is sacrosanct; just can’t be divulged, even if it is basic. If only the team realised the importance of culling the basics and making the most of it.

Normally a good pitch

The pitch here is normally a good one. There is bounce and that ensures good cricket. England off-spinner Graeme Swann, with those sensational dismissals of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar in the last Test, was so realistic when asked about the pitch.

“It doesn’t matter what you believe. The pitch is going to be the pitch whatever happens on Thursday morning. I am sure the management and coach will look at it and they will assess it. We play on it whatever comes on,” was his measured response.

But the playing surface remains a point of interest for both camps. The surface is dry but reflects cracks beneath. The bounce should give the bowlers an advantage even though it is just the pitch that would thrill stroke-players like Virat Kohli, Sehwag and Tendulkar, who like the ball to come on to the bat.

Tendulkar made a quick dash to the middle, practiced his routine shadow play on the pitch, and must have drawn his battle plans. Mahendra Singh Dhoni later took a tour of the pitch along with Hingnikar.

Ishant’s practises hard

Ishant Sharma spent time with the bowling coach, working on his in-swinger and length ball. The fast bowlers has strayed wildly, and landed short, and was punished for his errors. It is time Ishant delivered, especially after winning the faith of the selectors.

Swann spoke of dominating the first session. “Whatever the pitch is, we have to try and win the game. So come Thursday morning it will be about winning the first session, something which we have managed to do in the last two Test matches and it is why we have gone on to win the match.

“We have really tried to embrace India and embrace the series. We believe we can win it and I am not sure that has always been the case. It may have been.

“I have only been on one Test tour before but there certainly seems to be more belief in this group right from the outset.”

The England off-spinner put things in perspective. “What I said at the start of the tour is that if you expect just the spinners to win the game for you, you are doomed. And I stand by it completely because it is a team effort.

Monumental performances

“Without the monumental performances of (Alastair) Cook, (Kevin) Pietersen and (Jonathan) Trott (in the last game) we would not have been 2-1 up.” The emphasis clearly is on a collective assault.

There was nothing wrong in the home captain demanding a pitch of his choice, according to Swann. “It is not strange for a home team to ask for a wicket to suit their team. We do that in England because we want it to suit our bowlers.

“Kolkata was a very good Test pitch and did very little for the spinners or the pacers on the first two days and gradually broke as the game went on. It was turning quite nicely by the end. Kolkata produced an exceptional Test pitch.”

India also believes it can win but has not been able to identify the flaws and plug them in time.

Belief is what the Indians have lacked immensely, losing the contest in the dressing room itself. The stint that Ishant had on Tuesday was an indication of the desperation that the team is experiencing.

Virat concentrated on leaving the deliveries more than play them straight at nets.

Inspiring tale

The one-armed Gurudas Raut, a 25-year-old seamer, at the India nets attracted the attention of many. Handicapped at birth, he has chased his dream to play cricket. He impressed Kohli, Dhoni and Sehwag when he bowled to them during the World Cup nets here.

“I bowled Dhoni with an inswing,” Raut remembered with pride. His spirit is an epic tale of inspiration. The Indian team would do well to borrow some of it for their fight at Jamtha.

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