Flintoff's return will add to India's miseries
A month ago Old Trafford was swinging to the Arctic Monkeys, an English rock band. But, while they thrilled the crowd with numbers like "I bet you look good on the dance floor", the outfield at the Stretford Road End of the ground was turning messy.
So devoid of grass was one corner of the ground that the opening day of Lancashire's home fixture against Hampshire last week had to be called off. The patches continue to pose a worry but Andrew Flintoff, a Lancashire local, felt there had been considerable improvement.
Flintoff arrived at the nets with a sense of purpose, something that was missing in his pre-match routine at Edgbaston. Not only did he bound in with the ball and flay about with his bat, he also imparted a genuine joie de vivre. England played so well at Edgbaston that it would be tough to drop anyone - Flintoff's "hopefully I'll get a go" wasn't out of place - but it's almost certain that he will be in.
"You don't want to miss out at any venue but this one more so than any," Flintoff said about the ground he has been visiting since he was nine years old. He has taken part in only four one-dayers here, the last in 2003. "I've not done a great deal of it [play at Old Trafford] so obviously I am keen to play tomorrow and hopefully I'll come through. I fully expect to run in and bowl. A few runs wouldn't go amiss. I feel I am close, but a bit of time in the middle and a score would be ideal."
Coming on as a third seamer in the two games he has played this series, Flintoff has continued the good starts that James Anderson and Stuart Broad have provided, and he's taken pleasure in watching the two work in tandem. "When Stuart got the wicket the other night, you saw Jimmy at mid-off running around, leaping around. I think that's a theme throughout the camp as well. Everyone is enjoying playing, enjoying each other's company and that's for all to see out there."
Flintoff's return and England's growing confidence as a one-day unit is bad news for India but the 'Arctic' outfield might be the bigger concern. Chandu Borde, their manager, and Venkatesh Prasad, their bowling coach, have admitted that India's fielding effort at Edgbaston wasn't up to international standard while Robin Singh, the fielding coach, felt it was a case of being over-eager.
"Sometimes people get over-anxious, rather than being safe and doing the right things," Singh said. "We have to make sure they're relaxed on the field. Sometimes when you try too hard, things go wrong. I find some of the boys trying too hard rather than relaxing much more. It's like going out to bat. You can't hit every ball for six. You need that control. We can only instill as coaches, it's up to the players to execute it out in the middle."
The pitch at Old Trafford is one of the quickest in the country and that could prompt India to play an extra batsman. Considering the makeshift, low-lying floodlights, the teams might prefer to bat first, put up a total and pile on the pressure in the evening.
Visiting football teams rarely leave the other Old Trafford with a smile, yet India have had two famous triumphs on this ground - the semi-final win over England in the 1983 World Cup and a victory against Pakistan in the 1999 edition - and will want to leave with the series level.
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 Stuart Broad, 9 Chris Tremlett, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar.
India (likely) 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Sourav Ganguly, 3 Dinesh Karthik, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Rahul Dravid (capt), 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 7 Ajit Agarkar, 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Ramesh Powar, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 RP Singh.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo