THE BUZZ about the Oval Test is deafening. There is Michael Vaughan, who on one side, knows England's record of 11 successive home series win is under threat; and yet, on the other hand, is also reassured by the fact that the last six times England have bounced back after going down in a series.
The Indians can smell a first in 21 years but will also be a little emotional as this in all probability will be the final Test the holy trinity of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly play on English soil.
There is enough to distract the two teams from the real business of winning. And not the least because of the going-ons in the ranks. India would have a fast bowler in Sreesanth seething at being dropped from the one-day squad. England are upset at the way the 'jelly bean' issue has dragged on.
The conditions at the Oval will encourage England. The pitch is hard, and according to Steve Harmison, could offer trampoline bounce. The conditions could put Indian bowlers at a disadvantage. They would have to pull back their length as swing and seam could be in short supply.
Bounce suddenly would be a weapon. Sreesanth and RP Singh can cope up with the demand and Anil Kumble would relish the prospect.
England's biggest worry is India's biggest strength. Left-handers Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook are not in the best of nick. They seem to have trouble with Zaheer's coming from over the wicket, bowling from the edge of the crease. RP Singh's sharp incoming deliveries have compounded the issue.
India, on the other hand, certainly feel stable with Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik at the top. The duo has done a good job though I would not rule out Gambhir from the mix.
India would have to ensure that they are positive at all times.
First innings would be critical and for obvious reasons. A team with a big first innings lead would be able to turn on the screws. England would hope to win the toss, pile up a big score and then look to bounce the Indians out. Rahul Dravid and his men have, in the recent past, conveyed that the tag of 'poor travellers' is a thing of the past. They would now have to show that the 'chin-music' factor also no longer works against the Indians. TCM