Hope. English sport’s sworn enemy. Once again the national side have deigned to dollop out a healthy, Christmas dinner sized portion of this by marmalising India in Mumbai and winning only their second Test in this country since 1984. While Samit Patel would doubtless tuck into this offering with lashings of gloopy gravy, five stuffing balls, some of those little sausages you only see at this time of year and a jug of egg nog, the rest of us sit in the resolute unease of the gaping chasm between optimism and pessimism. The latter is easier, to be fair, so we’ll be gravitating that way by lunch on the first day, doubtless.
The home team
Six short months ago, Chelsea had just won the Champions League and all was rosy in the vicinity of the King’s Road, apart from annoying hipster types with their iMacs and skinny jeans getting in the way. Now they’re a self-destroying mess of a football club. India appear to be copying this surefire road to success by following up a convincing win with a heavy defeat which has thrown doubt over half of their current starting XI. However, they have named an unchanged squad so wholesale changes are unlikely, and Duncan Fletcher has not as yet been replaced by Sir Ian Botham.
Historically India have favoured two seamers at Eden Gardens so while Umesh Yadav remains injured, Ishant Sharma is in line to make a return with his unique brand of decent bowling mixed with Saj Mahmood-esque 72 mph long hops. The three men at risk of dropping out are Yuvraj Singh (averaging 27 with the bat and trusted with just 10 overs with the ball in the series), Ravichandran Ashwin (6 wickets at a tick under 60, though perhaps India’s best batsman after Gautam Gambhir in the last game) or Harbhajan Singh (was last useful at some point in 1982). We know which option we’d be favouring but it’s fairly pointless guessing what India will do being as they chose to recall Harbhajan in the first place for reasons best known to themselves. Sachin Tendulkar has now gone 10 straight Test innings without making 30; not that this appears to make any difference as to whether he gets picked or not, but there’s little doubt that India are carrying him right now.
The old adage is that you never change a winning side. Clearly this is absolute bunk like most adages, as if someone has contributed nothing to your previous victory, they shouldn’t be granted immunity as a result. As such, Steven Finn is likely to replace Stuart Broad in a move which might well have been made in the last game had the Middlesex man not suffered a recurrence of his thigh injury. This isn’t a kneejerk reaction to anything that’s happened on this tour, over his last five Tests, Broad averages 16 with the bat and 54 with the ball. We’re pretty sure Mark Ealham could still replicate those returns now. This has the effect on lengthening England’s tail, though, given Broad’s diminishing returns with the willow, it’s unlikely to matter too much.
Otherwise, Ian Bell has returned to the tour after missing the Second Test to miss the birth of his first child. He’s clearly not in prime form and hasn’t been for some time, but Jonny Bairstow failed to make a compelling case to keep his place and is therefore likely to drop out. Joe Root scored a century in the tour match preceding this game and with the trademark joys of youthful, fruitless enthusiasm, stated that he was hopeful of playing. We’ll soon knock that out of you son – you aren’t playing and, by the way, Charlotte Adams doesn’t want to go to the Christmas party with you. You can hand out the paper cups.
Much of the pre-match discussion has revolved around the state of the Kolkata pitch, with the curator doing an impressive Will and Grace-style hissy fit after MS Dhoni allegedly requested another sharply turning track. Presumably after reminding his team that the best way to beat England in India is not to play like England in India. The pitch will be a used one but we’re also assured by the Indian Groundskeeper Willie that there will be some grass present too, which will encourage Finn and further swell his confidence in surpassing Stuart Broad’s 0 wickets so far in the series.
Given the huge swings in performance between the two games, it would be less worthwhile making a prediction than hoping that Dave Stewart makes Christmas No 1 this year ahead of whatever rubbish the X Factor shits out. So here we go; a high-scoring draw, with Tendulkar to score a gritty but unconvincing 70 odd to secure his place until 2025, and Alastair Cook to score a century for a change. Dave Stewart to remain disappointed.
Join us from 3.30am @51allout to discuss farming techniques such as feeding beefburgers to swans, and maybe a bit of cricket too.