An air of tense, sombre uncertainty hung over the third Test, which is scheduled to begin here at Edgbaston on Wednesday.
There were reminders of the events of Monday night in Birmingham’s city centre — cars with their windshields smashed in, pubs with their window grills bent and glasses broken, shops dazed with sleepless shock after the looting — and when England was having a net on Tuesday morning, police cars sped past, sirens blazing.
It is difficult to think purely of cricket in times like these, but England captain Andrew Strauss disagreed.
“You can divorce the two,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for cricket to put the feel-good factor back in the newspapers, and show that not everything is bad. It’s not our proudest moment as a country, the scenes we have seen on TV are horrific, it’s disappointing, but it hasn’t affected our preparations at all. We intend to go out there and play this Test as we would any other game of cricket.”
A few of Strauss’s mates were out on Monday evening, as were some Indian cricketers, but they returned to the safety of their hotel rooms once they were informed.
Strauss insisted that his team had been isolated from everything; none of his teammates (or their families) had been directly affected by the violence.
There has been a steely ruthlessness to England’s cricket in the first two Tests — the side’s response to incidents that might have shaken lesser teams, or worried them in the very least, has only confirmed its formidability. As Strauss said, England fully expects the Test to go ahead, they’ve been told as much by those in charge of their security, and all their energies are focused on making it 3-0.
Fast-bowler Chris Tremlett has been ruled out of the third Test after failing to recover from the back injury that forced him to miss the previous match at Trent Bridge.
India, plagued by injury and undone by a lack of preparation, needs to find a similar fixity of purpose. “Control the controllables” is something M.S. Dhoni never tires of saying — that’s exactly what the Indians must do if they are going to put behind them the uncertainty around the Test and salvage the series.
India has had its moments, particularly in the second Test at Trent Bridge, but each time a moment had to be seized, it was England which did the seizing. India is unaccustomed to this. During its time to, and at, the top, it has been the one swinging such moments.
Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth: each has, at some time, come close to playing the defining part. But they’ve fallen just short, outmatched by a fitter, better prepared, and, in these conditions, more skilled team.
The last-chance salon
Edgbaston is the last-chance salon, and not an unfavourable salon, given the conditions.
Although it had been mowed, the pitch had live, green grass breaking though the surface. Both captains were unsure of how it would look on the first morning, but there’s certain to be help for the seamers.
Enough help for Dhoni to suggest in the pre-Test press-conference that playing four quicker bowlers isn’t ruled out. Counter-intuitive as it sounds, these are just the conditions India needs. The bowlers have done brilliantly despite being often forced to cover for an injured member.
But they’ve struggled with the depth of England’s batting. The vital period before the second new ball has been particularly difficult: the seamers have been asked to bowl in these times; already tired by the workload, they’ve had little left to return with the second new ball.
With more in the wicket here at Edgbaston (the ball swung at Lord’s and Trent Bridge, but the movement off the surface lessened as the match wore), India’s seamers are better armed for the challenge of dismissing England twice.
India’s batsmen have failed to raise 300 in four innings. But with Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag set to open the batting together for the first time this series, the line-up is better placed to succeed. As Dhoni said, Sehwag is a dynamic batman who can dissuade the opposing bowlers from the lines and lengths they’d like to settle on.
When Laxman and Dravid struck a succession of boundaries on the second morning of the second Test, England looked vulnerable. India couldn’t finish the job, however — Stuart Broad, and Tim Bresnan with the vital wicket of Laxman before that, didn’t allow it to. India can no longer allow itself to be dictated to. It must make the play.
The teams (from):
England: Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan, Ravi Bopara, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Tim Bresnan, and Steve Finn.
India: M.S. Dhoni (capt. & wk), Gautam Gambhir (vice-capt.), Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth, Praveen Kumar, Amit Mishra, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Abhinav Mukund, and Wriddhiman Saha.
Umpires: Simon Taufel and Steve Davis. Third Umpire: Rod Tucker. Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle
Hours of play (IST): 3.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m., 6.10 p.m. to 8.10 p.m., and 8.30 p.m. to close. Hindu