The alarm rings shrill but there’s a hint o’spring and a dash o’song in the March night. In Ahmedabad, however, there is little relief for England, groundhogdayed at the scene of their two-day thrashing, the pitch set to spin, the sun set to shine hot, and getting hotter – 37 degrees by noon.
A sickness bug has beset the England camp – I wasn’t expecting to read about Paul Collingwood’s dicky tummy in quite such detail – as well as end of tour-itus starting to drift heavy. But there have been no naughty boy nets for England’s batsmen who, with five successive totals under 200, have endured their worst run with the bat since 1888. Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel, 42 wickets and counting, watch and wait.
Joe Root, who has carried this batting line-up around the sub-continent on his slender shoulders, has called for England to be fearless. Confident but not reckless. “It’s having that confidence to play the ball in front of you, not having the baggage from the previous delivery, not overthinking the pitch, trying to see things for what they are.” If they can do that, and find the wherewithal to bowl India out twice, they will become the first overseas team to draw a series in India since 2012. Dom Bess is expected to play after missing out in the second and third Tests “a tough pill to swallow”, with Stuart Broad the seamer most likely to drop away.
For India, anything but a loss brings a place in the final of the World Test Championship against New Zealand in June, just off the motorway between Southampton and Portsmouth. Only if they they lose, will Australia sneak through in their place.
India are without Jasprit Bumrah (personal reasons) but motivated by criticism of the Ahmedabad pitch, with R Ashwin eloquently questioning the definition of good and Virat Kohli dismissive of critics of both the pitch and the pink ball. “Why don’t we just focus on the fact that the batsmen were just not skilled enough on that pitch to play properly, and it was a bizarre display of batting by both teams in a Test match”
Cast your eyes below for the pitch from two days ago, read the runes, and see you at 3.45 for the teams and the toss.