England v India, 3rd Investec Test, Ageas Bowl July 24, 2014

Ageas groundsman battles heatwave

There are no survivors from the last time India played at the Ageas Bowl - formally the Rose Bowl - Hampshire's home ground, a bowl rising out of nowhere in the outskirts of Southampton.

Two members of that 2002 team are travelling as commentators; Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly will remember this as a nasty pitch with such uneven bounce that led to rumours that the Indians did not even want to bat the second time around in that tour warm-up. The Indians won that match comfortably, though, bowling Hampshire out despite declaring with a lead of only 252. Nigel Gray, the head groundsman, remembers that pitch all too well, but those were the bedding-down days, only two years into the existence of Hampshire's new home ground.

The pitch for the Test, only second in the history of the venue looks green, not as green as Lord's last week, but promises good carry and bounce. It has been an incredibly hot week leading up to the Test so the challenge for Gray and his team has been to retain the moisture.

The pitch has been spending most of its time under the hovercraft, and is uncovered only for watering. The pitches for this series have received their fair bit of attention after Trent Bridge proved to be slow and low and Lord's brought the home team a loss even after they got their ideal seaming conditions and the first use of the surface. Trent Bridge even earned a poor rating from the match referee David Boon.

If Trent Bridge and Lord's are two ends of a scale, Gray believes his pitch is somewhere in the middle but leaning towards Lord's. "It will be a pretty good pitch," Gray said. "It has a bit of grass on it and will have good pace and bounce. A good international pitch. Grass is there but there but it isn't oceans of grass."

Gray is not too much into lengths of grass, but the mower right now is set at around 10mm. It will be trimmed later, but Gray is not sure to what height. Trent Bridge, by comparison, had 8mm three days before the Test, which was to be cut down to 6mm. Gray believes there is more to it than just the height.

"I am not one so much for the height of the grass," Gray said. "I go for the feel. We do check the height once in a while and whilst it is interesting it doesn't make the entire difference to what a pitch is like. There are other factors like how dense the grass is, how green it is. This has got some green on it." He expects the ball to seam around but not alarmingly.

Gray was later seen in conversation with Alastair Cook and Peter Moores, but he does not need any instructions. Asked if he was told by England what to give them, he said he knew England wanted English conditions, and that is what he will strive to provide. The heat - with highs going over 30 degrees and no rain expected anytime soon - remains a challenge.

Has there been any change in what England might want after they lost at Lord's in pretty English conditions? "Not as far as I am aware," Gray said.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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