Will it play three spinners or two?
Will the ball turn, bounce, skid? It shall remain a mystery until the umpires call “play” on Thursday. Would it suit the Indians?
Maybe, maybe not! Indian cricket faces a test. It can take the problem head on or skirt the issue. But there is no escape. Only a win here would put things in perspective as the Test series against England enters the final phase.
India trails 1-2, a result that has only exposed the home team’s flawed assessment of self and the opposition. England had its plans for the series and executed them.
India is yet to come to terms with the situation. From the pleasant climes of Kolkata, the warm Jamtha provides a challenging prospect to the teams, especially India.
The pitch, whatever its behaviour, may haunt the Indians and impact the composition of the final eleven, three spinners or two, but the need to raise their game is imperative. The daggers will be out, and rightly too, if Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his team plunge to a defeat here.
The arrows are raining from all quarters and surprisingly from some who would do well to peep into their past.
Sourav Ganguly says if he was Sachin Tendulkar he would go. But Ganguly is not Tendulkar and he never went out himself. He had to be shown the door. This is the difference. Public pronouncements like Ganguly’s would hardly make any difference to Tendulkar’s approach.
The master would find solace in what England skipper Alastair Cook had to say.
“He is an incredible cricketer with a fantastic record. No one will match hundred hundreds, I am sure of that. It’s a pleasure to play against him. It’s not for me to say when the great man can retire or whatever… He will make whatever decision he has to make.”
Dhoni too came to Tendulkar’s defence. “He is the best man to have in the team in a situation like this because of the kind of experience he has and the kind of performances he has given in similar situations in the past.
“He is someone we all look up to. When it comes to Sachin, I think it’s best not to speculate. Let him enjoy his cricket.” It is not that Tendulkar has become a burden. The fact is that the team needs him.
Tendulkar and his failures cannot be the reason for India’s debacle.
“Leave him alone” is the common refrain from many former players. Actually he is alone. There are not many he can fall back on for technical support and not many he can confide in.
“They don’t read the game like he does. So, Tendulkar will have to fight his own battle and win it too before the dressing room becomes a cauldron for him. He knows it and acknowledges it more than anyone else.
India has landed in an unprecedented spot and it has none to blame. The stalwarts are failing, youngsters are struggling and the team as a whole is falling apart.
Desperation is so distinct and so unnerving when the Indians take the field. The team lacks direction and it is apparent in its below-par performance.
The sacking of Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh is the first step of the cleansing process that the national selectors have triggered after the humiliation at Mumbai and Kolkata.
Essentially it is the lack of form in a collective heap that has left India groping. A few individuals have excelled but then this is a team game and the English have best gained from the realisation that they will have to fight in unison to conquer an opponent that is always at its best when playing at home.
This Indian team has forgotten the art of winning a Test. The two wins against New Zealand last August did not help the team understand its realistic strength against a strong opposition.
England has gained hugely from the good form of Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen, their roles so generously acknowledged the other day by Graeme Swann, who has emerged as a lethal spinner in the company of Monty Panesar. Cook and Pietersen have given the bowlers a platform to thrive on.
They have delivered too. England has looked a complete team with practically no shortcomings. England pace bowler Steven Finn who has a lower back strain is a doubtful starter.
The induction of Piyush Chawla and Ravindra Jadeja has a different connotation. The pitch commands their inclusion.
Dedicated attention has been ensured in the preparation of the pitch. No watering for some time has left it parched, with ominous cracks, eliciting a joyous countenance among the Indian spinners. Obviously Dhoni’s insistence on a “rank turner” has worked here.
Two seamers can be a luxury on this surface where the ball is expected to turn from day one. If it does not, the curator could land himself in trouble with his masters. Needless to say, given the nature of the pitch, the toss assumes importance.
The teams (from):
India: M.S. Dhoni (capt.), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Cheteshwar Pujara, R. Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Parvinder Awana, Piyush Chawla, Ajinkya Rahane, Ashoke Dinda, Murali Vijay and Ishant Sharma.
England: Alastair Cook (capt.), Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Ian Bell, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Monty Panesar, Tim Bresnan, Eoin Morgan, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Graham Onions, Samit Patel, Steven Finn and Stuart Meaker.
Umpires: R. Tucker and K. Dharmasena; Third umpire: S. Ravi; Match Referee: Jeff Crowe.
Match Referee: Jeff Crowe.
Hours of play: 9:30 to 11:30 am; 12:10 to 2:10 pm; 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm (minimum 90 overs).