England v India, 3rd ODI, Edgbaston August 26, 2007

Unpredictable conditions keep teams guessing

England would have learnt their lessons from Bristol and Monty Panesar could come in to add more variety to the attack © AFP

From cloudy, chilly Southampton to bright Bristol to blazing Birmingham, these one-day venues are hotting up with every passing day. The weather may change as the caravan moves up north but the heat in the contest might soon reach boiling point. An overwhelmingly one-sided contest has been followed by an overwhelmingly close one. It's two down with five to play and it may eventually come down to who blinks first.

From the miniature County Ground at Neville Road the teams are back to a larger arena, the first of five Test venues where the teams will travel. Both sides have injury concerns - Andrew Flintoff and Zaheer Khan are being monitored - and plenty to ponder ahead of the match.

A 10:15am local start could be tricky. There's expected to be a cloud covering. There would be a temptation to bowl first. The pitch has traditionally confounded experts, revealing itself to be a batting belter one day and a juicy bowling surface another. The strip was covered for most of the day, which, according to experts may indicate the groundsman's desire to leave some moisture on it. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India's vice-captain, said his side may want to bat first either way. "The pressure is usually on the team chasing."

Flintoff and Zaheer may play, Monty Panesar should and Ajit Agarkar probably shouldn't. Panesar's absence affected England, leaving the attack too one-dimensional. Chris Tremlett, his replacement, had a poor game, unable to vary his length when being carted around, and seven medium-pacers is never a great option. Agarkar has looked toothless over the last couple of games and it remains to be seen if he gets a chance to redeem himself. The fitness of Zaheer and Munaf Patel could decide the issue.

Flintoff and Zaheer may play, Monty Panesar should and Ajit Agarkar probably shouldn't. Panesar's absence affected England, leaving the attack too one-dimensional

As at the Rose Bowl, India's fielding runs the risk of being exposed on a large ground. Longer boundaries will no doubt help their spinners but the number of twos and threes on offer could mess up plans. Both Rahul Dravid and Dhoni have spoken about their fielders' "weak arms". It's easy to explain India's poor sliding and weak stopping techniques - "When I was a kid I never had a good outfield," said Dhoni, "and if you have a [bruise as big as a] 500 rupee note on your arm, it is difficult to dive for a second time."

But surely there must be another explanation for their feeble throws. "We don't have the throws of big guys like Flintoff and [Andrew] Symonds, we are not the guys who are known for our big and flat throws. We are looking at attacking the ball and giving less time for the batsmen. It is not that our guys are not fast - guys like Robin [Uthappa], [Dinesh] Karthik, Yuvraj [Singh], Ajit are really fast ones - just that the arms are weak."

England would like to think of Bristol as an aberration. They got their selection wrong and lost the toss, yet came within nine runs of hunting down such a daunting total. They would like to look back at the Rose Bowl when they simply hammered India in every department. Panesar, though, will have to make some telling contributions. He didn't enjoy himself in the Test series and hasn't yet established himself as a force in one-dayers. This is his chance to enhance his reputation and match up to India's spin combination.

Birmingham is England's mini-Punjab. There's a direct flight from here to Amritsar and some restaurants serving delicious north Indian cuisine. A number of Indian fans, mostly Punjabis, landed up to watch the practice sessions and one supporter nearly sustained a serious injury running after Yuvraj for an autograph. India will have plenty of support but it's unlikely that too many will mind if it's Monty doing the upstaging.

England (likely) 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Matt Prior (wk), 3 Ian Bell, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood (capt), 6 Ravi Bopara, 7 Dimitri Mascarenhas, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 James Anderson, 10 Monty Panesar, 11 Jon Lewis

India (likely) 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Sourav Ganguly, 3 Yuvraj Singh, 4 Rahul Dravid (capt), 5 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 6 Dinesh Karthik, 7 Piyush Chawla, 8 Ramesh Powar, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 RP Singh, 11 Munaf Patel

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo