The Indians will be fed up to their eyebrows with the short stuff that will be dished out to them at The Oval from Thursday.
The bounce at England’s first Test venue is certain to be steepling, the ball is likely to leap, rather than wobble. And the hosts possess three towering pacemen, the tallest and the rawest of whom would be the most menacing.
Chris Tremlett, at six-feet-seven, is just the man for this track, made to order to orchestrate chin music.
India are set to retain the XI that won at Trent Bridge. The Indian attack has dismissed England four times in four innings in the series.
Bose, Pawar can wait
Ranadeb Bose and Ramesh Powar had performed well in the warm-up game against Sri Lanka ‘A’. But chef selector Dilip Vengsarkar said S. Sreesanth would play.
Pitch has something in it
Rahul Dravid said, “If there is anything to be had from the wicket, Anil (Kumble) is probably the best guy to utilise it. For Monty Panesar and Anil, there will be something there.”
India won at Trent Bridge, but the brawny Tremlett sounded a warning on the final day by taking three wickets off balls that spat up nastily, including one that surprised Sachin Tendulkar.
Then there are James Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom — who remains a massive threat despite not reaping rewards commensurate to his effort in the second Test. Sidebottom will probably never again bowl with such incisive skill and with such miserable results as he did on the third morning at Trent Bridge.
Seniors’ last Test in England
This game will be more than a farewell to only this series — it will also be the last Test in England for five Indian stalwarts. Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Kumble and Laxman will almost certainly never figure in a five-dayer here again.
More pertinently, this could well be the Test that will banish the ghosts of the recent past, when the Indians have gone 1-0 up on foreign soil, only to go on to lose or draw the series.
The figures from the past don’t foretell much — the two teams last played a decisive game at the venue 36 years ago, when India won. Their four subsequent contests here have not produced a result — a record that would not dismay the Indians.
But figures often lie — nine of the last 11 Tests here have produced results, including the controversial ‘Ovalgate’ involving Pakistan last year. Still more relevant, more ominous is the fact that each time Michael Vaughan has lost a Test as captain, he has won the next game — this has happened five times and he is desperate to complete a set of six.
Dravid’s challenge to his boys
Dravid is equally determined to avert that — he says he has thrown down a challenge to his men. “I’ve challenged them to play the kind of cricket we played at Trent Bridge,” he said. “We need to come up with another good performance.”
“It takes a lot to win Test matches, it takes a lot more to win a Test series,” the captain added.
“There is only the question of adapting to the extra bounce,” he said. “It opens up a lot of backfoot shots, it opens up the front foot game.”
Dravid had got a 217 here four years ago — in the series in which Vaughan suffered from a bad case of nervous 190s. Dravid said that, in the context of his low scores here, he’d look back in hope.
The captain, to be fair, looked good at Trent Bridge before being foxed by Monty Panesar; and he did get a bad decision at Lord’s. “I’m hitting the ball well, we’re up in the series,” he said when asked if he was concerned over his form. “If the team is winning, that will not affect you that much.”
Plenty of runs to be scored
Cricket manager Chandu Borde is similarly unworried — he says that there will be runs for those who stay in the middle. A view echoed by Sourav Ganguly.
“It looks like a good track to bat on,” he said. “But whatever it is, we must get the runs on whatever surface we get, here or anywhere.”
In this game, though, Ganguly just might be keener than ever before. He is aware that this is his — and many of his mates’ — last Test in England.
Dravid, one of them, says that this thought has not really bothered him — but he did proffer a glimmer of hope. “Who knows, Sachin might be here when India tour England next,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. Now that would really be a tall order.