England v India, 6th ODI, The Oval September 4, 2007

Injured England's chance to clinch series



Luke Wright could make his ODI debut if Andrew Flintoff isn't fit to play at The Oval © Getty Images

It wouldn't be out of place if the nursery rhyme 'Ring a ring o' roses' is played at the end of the series with the packed house at Lord's chanting, 'ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo, we all fall down'. The ride has been so arduous, with players succumbing to injuries, it's a surprise so many of those involved have managed to get so far.

England have lost Ravi Bopara for six weeks and Chris Tremlett for the sixth game. Andrew Flintoff, meanwhile, has a recurrence of pain in his ankle, that same fateful left ankle, and is consulting the surgeon who operated on him in May. He is, according to the chairman of selectors David Graveney, "not ruled out of tomorrow's game" but "not a certainty for the Twenty20". That's a contender for the riddle of the summer.

India have had their share of mass flu afflictions - first in Belfast and then in Bristol - and their fast bowlers must be aching at the joints. Zaheer Khan (236.2 overs) and RP Singh (195.3 overs) are 20 overs short of jointly completing the 450-over mark on the tour while Munaf Patel appears to be fit one moment and unfit the next. It's no wonder that Rahul Dravid uses "as of now" while talking about the availability of his players.

This is just the start of a long season for India but there isn't time to think too far ahead. "At this stage we can't afford to think of long-term management," Dravid said when asked how he plans for the future when faced with must-win games. "We have no choice but to win each game. I'm not going to force them if they're not fit but as long as they're fit they need to play."

India have won only two out of the nine ODIs they've played at The Oval but they can't afford to slip up this time and let go of the momentum gained at Headingley. For the sixth time in two weeks Dravid was asked if India would play seven batsmen or five bowlers. He has never wavered from his answer, saying it doesn't really make that much of a difference, and conveyed the same today with a big smile. However, it was down to a choice between RP Singh and Dinesh Karthik and the left-arm seamer was likely to get the nod.

England's possible seventh batsman, Luke Wright, is widely regarded as the best young batsman in the country. Only 22, Wright rattled the Indians with a fearless 40-ball 56 for England Lions in the practice match in Northampton. His inclusion is dependent on Flintoff's fitness but India have been warned in advance. They also need no introduction to Ryan Sidebottom, having been turned inside out in some phases during the Test series, and his return will add a new dimension to the England attack.

The pitch, a hard surface that's expected to get crusty later on, might favour India, especially with their spinners coming into play. Did Dravid think the pitch would turn quite a bit? "We think it will turn," he said, "but not sure about 'quite a bit'." The Indians' definition of 'turn', 'quite' and 'bit' is obviously different from England's for Graveney thought it would turn and that it would be a good toss to win.

Three weeks ago, The Oval witnessed a historic series win, one that was followed by a joyous celebration. Another series could be decided here this time, except it's the home team rather than the visitors who will be celebrating. It's been a long-winding series but, as Dravid himself was to admit, "at least the cricket has been exciting". At the very least.

England (likely) 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Matt Prior (wk), 3 Ian Bell, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood (capt), 6 Owais Shah, 7 Luke Wright, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Ryan Sidebottom, 10 Monty Panesar, 11 James Anderson.

India (likely) 1 Sourav Ganguly, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 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