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The Preview by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan at Bristol
August 23, 2007
From the vast, high-tech arena that was the Rose Bowl, the one-day caravan has shifted to the idyllic County Ground at Bristol, a venue set up as early at 1889 and one steeped in history.
It's a ground where the memory of WG Grace, Gilbert Jessop and Wally Hammond lives on, from an age where the sport was still an amateur pastime. There is a suite named after Jack Russell, the former England wicketkeeper, who was one of the most eccentric men to walk the cricket field. Temporary stands have been set up for this encounter and makeshift flood-lights arrangements are being put in place.
Narrow, winding streets provide an approach to the ground and locals say the route will be choc-a-block tomorrow. This miniature ground is lined with houses on one side and trees on the other. A thick edge is bound to fly over third man for six and, if the pitch plays true, the match could be a high-scoring one.
Twice in nine games has a score of more than 300 been seen here and India have been involved in both. The first was against Kenya in the 1999 World Cup when Sachin Tendulkar made an emotional hundred after returning from his father's funeral; the next was against Sri Lanka in the Natwest Series of 2002, when Tendulkar smashed another century in India's 63-run win. He batted at No. 4 in both instances. India will need something similar from him tomorrow, this time at No. 1.
Worringly for India, Tendulkar missed practice on the eve of the game along with Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, RP Singh and Yuvraj Singh, all of whom were suffering from flu and body ache. With Munaf Patel returning from injury, India find themselves heavily depleted at such an early stage of the series.
England are likely to stick to the same combination, one that ran away to an overwhelming win at the Rose Bowl. "There's a lot of energy in the side," said an upbeat Stuart Broad, England's opening bowler. "It's an exciting place to be playing. We had a great performance at the Rose Bowl. If we fulfil our potential, we're difficult to beat."
A fiery return for Andrew Flintoff added an potency to their side. Steaming in at more than 90mph and hitting the awkward middle length, he made life difficult for India's middle order. The fact that James Anderson and Broad teamed up for such a good combination first up made things easier. "Jimmy bowls a swingy length and I hit the pitch and get bounce," said Broad. "It's good to have such a combination. Certainly our aim is to bowl straight and [be] aggressive."
Rahul Dravid admitted that Gautam Gambhir's spot was under scrutiny, adding that he might miss out if they go with the five-bowlers option. "Like everyone else in this side, he has earned the right through performances," Dravid said. "When he goes back to domestic cricket he scores runs and must be given the opportunity. Whether he takes those chances or not is up to him. In Ireland he got a 70, did well in Scotland. He's got runs in all the side games between the Tests. Now it's up to him to stand up and make the jump."
India have a few factors to consider while picking their XI - the pitch, which the curator feels is "a 300 wicket" and the size of the ground, which is conspicuously small. It might be tricky playing two spinners here, especially with the 30-yard circle dangerously close to the boundary line at the pavilion end. One meaty hit is all it will take to clear the Hammond roof, the Grace pavilion, and the Jack Russell suite. Three legends floored with one stroke.
England (likely) 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Matt Prior (wk), 3 Ian Bell, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood (capt), 6 Andrew Flintoff, 7 Ravi Bopara, 8 Dimitri Mascarenhas, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 James Anderson,11 Monty Panesar
India (likely) 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Sourav Ganguly, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Rahul Dravid (capt), 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 7 Dinesh Karthik, 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Ajit Agarkar, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 RP Singh.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of CricinfoFeeds: Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
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