Jimmy Anderson ready but England expected to remain unchanged

With Mohali in sight it’s unlikely Jimmy Anderson could cope with back-to-back Tests

England’s team captain Alastair Cook bats on the fifth day of the first cricket test match between India and England in Rajkot, India, Sunday, November 13th. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

For the second match in succession England will play on a new Test ground and that brings many virtues. Here on the outskirts of a city that sits alongside the Bay of Bengal is a stadium that has been polished for the grand occasion.

Beyond the neat, symmetrical stands, the verdant, tree-lined hills rise up spectacularly. We might be in Pallekele just outside Kandy or somewhere leafy in the Caribbean. The practice facilities are spacious and of the highest quality, just as they were in Rajkot, while the rest of the grassland outside the ground has been chalked with the precision of the Wimbledon courts to designate the parking spaces for the VVIPs, who will be coming to the Test match on Thursday.

A statue of CK Nayudu, India’s first Test captain, stands proudly outside the entrance. He was a colonel and a fine all-rounder. Inside the ground the players’ dressing rooms are at the Vizzy End, a name that stems from the Maharajah of Vizianagram; he was a multimillionaire and a very poor player, which did not prevent him from captaining India in England in 1936.

Five years earlier Vizzy's vast wealth had persuaded Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe to go to India to play for his team. In England he averaged eight in the three Test matches of 1936 – and he was not a bowler; the series was lost after he had sent home one of the most gifted players, Lala Amarnath, for "disciplinary reasons". If he had kept himself off the pitch he might have been remembered as one of the great benefactors of Indian cricket.


In later life he joined the BBC commentary team as a guest for one series, without gaining universal approval. He had a passion for hunting tigers and on air he spoke at length of how he snared his victims. "Really," said Rohan Kanhai, the great West Indies batsman, "I thought you just left a transistor radio on when you were commentating and bored them to death."

Fiftyfive metres from the plaque signposting Vizzy's End lies something that may be of greater interest to the England team: the pitch. On Tuesday it looked flat and there was still a little live grass upon it. By Thursday we expect most of that grass to be shaved off. The groundsman, Kasturi Sriram, looked on with justifiable pride, saying that he would expect the ball to start turning around lunchtime on the second day and for that turn to become more extreme as the match progresses. It does not look so devilish for batsmen as Dhaka, but more demanding than Rajkot.

The outfield is like an expensive green carpet. At 9.30am there was plenty of dew to be found upon it but they say on match days super-soppers and ropes will be in action at 7.30am to ensure everything is dry. However, the grass is so lush that it may reduce the possibility of reverse swing, which is supposed to be one of England’s strengths. Against expectations the India pacemen found more reverse swing than England’s in Rajkot and it may be difficult to find here, which may influence England’s selection.

The solitary issue for the team management is whether to bring back Jimmy Anderson for this game. He worked hard on Tuesday morning throughout a long training session from which Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes were excused on the understandable grounds that they would benefit more from resting.

If this is not an obvious ground for hunters of reverse swing then there is a good case to delay Anderson’s return until the third Test at Mohali – especially if Broad and Woakes are still in the pink. It seems unlikely that Anderson could cope with back-to-back Tests at the moment. However, after another week of strengthening his body he could play in Mohali, after which there is a mid-series break of more than a week, which means he might also be a realistic starter for the fourth Test in Mumbai.

The expectation is that England will stick to the same formation with three spinners and three pacemen and the same team. This was enhanced when Zafar Ansari was chosen to speak after practice – it would be unusual to put up someone not expected to play.

If there is a pecking order among the spinners, then Ansari is now number three. Like all of them he is eager to improve under the guidance of Saqlain Mushtaq, who has been retained until the end of the third Test.

“He [Saqlain] has made it explicit that he does not want to come in and change anything,” says Ansari. “In the lead-up to a Test that is the last thing you want. But there are little things like thinking about your trajectory rather than your pace. It’s more about your approach, how you can retain your composure when batsmen are coming at you, when the crowd is loud, when you’re playing on TV. He also acts as a cheerleader to some extent. He boosts us and makes us feel good about ourselves.”

Such a sympathetic approach may not have been a characteristic of Vizzy, the captain of 80 years ago, but it sounds more like the style of Anil Kumble, India's coach. There has, however, been much mumbling here about the performances of Gautam Gambhir and Amit Mishra in Rajkot and it is unlikely that both will survive.

Gambhir’s place at the top of the order looks particularly insecure since the opening batsman KL Rahul has been added to the India squad now that he has fully recovered from his hamstring injury. – Guardian Service