India v England
Third Test, Kolkata
Preview by Chetan Narula in Kolkata
bet365 odds: IND 11/10, ENG 3/1, Draw 2/1
England have done the impossible - almost. There aren’t many in know-how of the game who gave them much of a chance against India. At best, they were expected to draw one Test out of four.
That was what the media and fans expected, and perhaps, what the Indian team did too. That the series heads to Kolkata pegged at 1-1 is as much a joyous wonder of Test cricket as it is a cause for much astonishment for the hosts.
Some credit is due here to the visitors. After their collapse in the first innings at Ahmedabad, they have been right on the money and the Indians have had to try extremely hard for getting even a simple sniff. England lost that Test, because of their frail nerves, ones that they steadied for the second essay.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha have found the going hard since then. Maybe that is what prompted skipper MS Dhoni to play the third spinner in Mumbai and not the turning pitch as it were. But it didn’t work out as each member of this English squad will famously live on to tell their grandkids.
Under the watchful eyes of Andy Flower, Graham Gooch and Mushtaq Ahmed, the English have trained well and worked hard. Preparation is the watch-word they are willing to live by. It is quite possible that they have put in more effort than they did on the tours to Sri Lanka and Pakistan (UAE), but then again, India as an opposition demands precisely that.
The point is that they have done most things right, their plans backed by careful planning and groundwork. And they have been amply rewarded.
India’s shock defeat in Mumbai now means that there is a real prospect of an England series win and Dhoni ought to have realised it by now. There are two reasons for this. One, the Kolkata pitch has become a huge topic of debate with the chief curator not ready to tow the home-advantage-line.
The pitch to be used for this third Test will be one where a Ranji match was recently played, and that means it is will be much similar to Ahmedabad. Pace was the missing ingredient from the India spinners’ armoury at Mumbai and their team paid a heavy price for it. In that light, they might find the Eden Gardens’ slow turn more to their liking, but that doesn’t give any respite for Alastair Cook and his men have found their feet against spin.
And two, this series has now taken the shape of a two-match rubber. When one team falls behind in such a scenario, there isn’t much time to recover. In other words, the number of mistakes you are allowed to make gets reduced significantly.
England do not have anything to lose from here onwards. There are two matches remaining, that is thirty sessions of Test cricket. If they do not win even a single session and lose in both Kolkata and Nagpur, they can still return home with their heads held high. This equation places an intense amount of pressure on the Indian players.
Despite retaining the same squad for the third Test, Dhoni knows that he cannot go in with the same eleven. Harbhajan Singh doesn’t look like a Test-level spinner at the moment and much the same can be said about other players.
Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have borrowed some more time with their recent exploits. Dhoni himself needs to score runs and while Yuvraj Singh may have scored a half century on his Test return, his struggles against spin have become worrisome all over again.
Among the bowlers, Zaheer Khan and Pragyan Ojha keep their heads above water. R Ashwin though, with his experimentation, has lost his penetration. Meanwhile the world is watching with bated breath as Sachin Tendulkar battles even more expectations with now obviously slowed reflexes.
Since India’s batting holds the key, given the expected slow nature of the wicket, Dhoni could also do well to gamble with the number six spot and bring in Ajinkya Rahane ahead of Yuvraj. But with just two spinners playing, he might like the option of an extra pie-chucker, thus making only the one change.
Dropping Harbhajan is a given, and with Umesh Yadav still out, Ashok Dinda or Ishant Sharma should get a look in. Play begins at 9 am at Eden Gardens, owing to sun setting early in the evening, and therefore there might be some help for seam bowlers early in the morning.
This factor might also save Stuart Broad from getting dropped. Steve Finn is now fighting fit ahead of the last two Tests and is a shoe-in, given that he can extract more pace and bounce owing to his height whilst also the small matter of England lacking a support bowler for James Anderson.
This is the only worry for Cook ahead of the toss on Wednesday, and he will possibly even get by with retaining the same eleven (discounting new father Ian Bell coming straight back in for Jonny Bairstow).
For world cricket with keenly train all its eyes on India and how they respond to that crushing loss at Mumbai.
© Cricket World 2012
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