Alastair Cook’s passage to the city in the middle of India was rather more straightforward than his last journey to Nagpur. In March 2006 he came from the Caribbean as an urgent replacement for Marcus Trescothick; in December 2012 he comes garlanded as the England captain with Bollywood looks but only from Kolkata.
Nagpur is where it all started for Cook. Six years ago it was surprising that this slender 21-year-old could cross so many time zones, strap on his pads and score 60 and 104* in alien conditions in his first Test. Looking back now we begin to understand how he did it. Cook, once his mind is set, can usually find a way to do anything.
Cook is an unsentimental batsman; he is wonderfully methodical. Yet there may be a touch of sentiment upon returning to Nagpur. No one forgets their first Test — although Thursday’s game will be played in the relatively new out-of-town stadium rather than the more homely arena in the city where Cook introduced himself as a Test player.
Three other current England tourists played in that 2006 Test: Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen and Monty Panesar, who was also a debutant. The Indian survivors this week are Sehwag, Dhoni and Tendulkar, who became Panesar’s first Test wicket in that match.
Other faces too
But there will be other familiar faces around. Looking and sounding perky is Paul Collingwood, who scored a ton in that 2006 Test, which ended as a draw. Collingwood is here as the sole “Englishman” among the Indian galacticos of TV.
Not looking quite so perky is Duncan Fletcher. Six years ago he was on England’s side, omnipotent in his sway so soon after the 2005 Ashes win. Now as India's coach it is less obvious how much power he holds.
He still keeps his thoughts to himself so it is hard to gauge whether he pines for the presence in his side of spinners of the quality of Graeme Swann or Panesar, two bowlers whom he never entirely trusted when in charge of England, but who have caused “his” batsmen some heartache recently.
Rahul Dravid captained India in that 2006 series — less predictably that one might have imagined since he put England into bat at Mumbai and lost the match by 212 runs.
In 2006 Dravid caused a stir by shuffling his batting order in the final session of the Nagpur Test. India seemed to be settling for the draw but then he promoted Dhoni and Irfan Pathan — even above Tendulkar — to make a late bid for victory. In the end the chase had to be called off and the wicket was too true for Panesar, Matthew Hoggard (the man of the match after six first-innings wickets), Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff to bowl India out.
This time around in Nagpur it is unlikely — according to Dravid — that the wicket will still be so true come the fifth day. But Cook will not be any more flustered by that prospect than he was six years ago when he calmly strolled out to open the batting for England for the very first time.