“The wicket here has helped spin towards the latter parts of the matches”
India can emulate Don Bradman’s Australians of 1936-37 and make it 3-2 … at least that has been the hope voiced by some, including respected men like former England captain Ray Illingworth.
And after the emphatic comeback at Nottingham, optimism rules. The team is obviously upbeat, with the momentum of the superb turnaround surging through their preparations. The media and the fans have also performed their habitual volte-face, and the nadir of despondence and criticism has made way for the diametrically opposite high of enthusiasm.
Yes, the feat of coming back from being 0-2 down to win 3-2 has been achieved only once in the history of Test cricket, but the general view is that if any side can do that it is this one.
Yet, before indulging in the euphoric pronouncements, let us take a while to ponder what is in store for the Indians when they walk out to face England at Ageas Bowl on Thursday.
It will be judicious to remember that the side was even more buoyant when they made their way here in 2014, having gone one up with their excellent victory at Lord’s. And then everything had gone wrong.
It was at Southampton that they had floundered, and the tottering that began there soon transformed into a freefall as the series progressed.
Early in the first morning, the Indians had dropped Alastair Cook, then the captain of England and woefully out of form. It had allowed him to play himself back into proper nick. And then Ian Bell and Gary Ballance had hit huge hundreds, James Anderson had taken his usual five-for. and the tale had been an increasingly dismal one for India … till the apparently innocuous off-breaks of Moeen Ali had dismissed six batsmen in the second innings to hasten the end.
This time there seems to be little chance of there being either Ballance, Bell or Moeen in the side, but some of the ominous signs remain.
Hampshire fielded three major quicks this summer, in the form of overseas recruits Fidel Edwards and the great Dale Steyn, and the South African Kolpak man Kyle Abbott. And while Steyn is yet to hit a purple patch after his injury problems, Edwards has captured 38 wickets in the season at 27.31. Abbott has claimed 23.
Another South African, Gareth Berg, adds to the pace options and so does Scottish medium-pacer Brad Wheal.
It is predominantly a pace based attack and hence the wicket has the reputation of being the most bouncy in England. There is some side-wise movement as in any venue in England, but the bounce factor seems to be the key here.
True, left-arm spinning all-rounder Liam Dawson, who played three Tests for England a couple of seasons earlier, has had a fairly successful season with the ball so far. But at home, the only time he has had an extended bowl has been in the fourth innings against Nottinghamshire.
Indeed, apart from the bouncy wicket helping quick bowlers, we can see some other distinct symptoms from the First-Class matches that have taken place here this season.
Three of the six Championship matches that have taken place here have seen results, and in all of them, the side batting first have won by big margins.
Hence, the toss seems to be a very important factor and Joe Root, having burnt his flipping finger at Trent Bridge, will hardly be inclined to put the Indians in this time around.
On the bright side, unlike previous Indian sides, this one does not really need to lose too much sleep over bouncy wickets. The batting will be tested, no doubt about that. But, as far as the bowling is concerned, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Hardik Pandya can give as good as they get … and perhaps can do even better. At Trent Bridge they did.
And if the Indian batting is still a trifle shaky and uncertain in the conditions, the English top order is neither a settled unit nor have they been among runs.
The wicket here has helped spin towards the latter parts of the matches. Both Dawson and the off-spinning Middlesex recruit Ollie Rayner have picked up four-wicket hauls in the second innings. When Surrey played here, Guramar Singh Virdi’s off-breaks were instrumental in polishing off the hosts in the final innings.
Hence, the Indians will be keeping their fingers crossed about Ravichandran Ashwin and his fitness. In case he has to sit out, Ravindra Jadeja will also be looking at the help the wicket tends to offer as the match progresses.
It is on the cards that India will be backing their bowling to carry them to success in this Test as well.
But, as already mentioned, the flip of the coin will be most vital. The side batting second will have to apply themselves with plenty of fight and focus to stay in the match.