Few venues offer Indian team as much comfort and confidence as the Eden Gardens. It’s their fortress, an arena of some of their finest triumphs and individual performances in Test cricket.
And then they have that 12th man – a massive, boisterous crowd supporting their every move.
For the record, India have not lost a Test here since the turn of this millennium, winning five out of seven matches, while drawing the other two.
On the other hand England, whose confidence will be sky high going into the third Test starting on Wednesday, haven’t won a Test at this stadium after 1977, a feat they achieved under Tony Greig.
These days history and past records might not be of utmost importance to teams, but their glittering history at the Eden will certainly offer them a sense of security, a positive vibe that will ease their minds after crashing to a numbing 10-wicket defeat at Mumbai just over a week ago
There wouldn’t have been many who were ready to bet on England arriving at Kolkata with a 1-1 score-line after two Tests, and a sense of doom among the English supporters may have intensified after the defeat at Motera. But they pieced together all the positives to script an emphatic turnaround at the Wankhede stadium on a spin-friendly track, massively assisted by brilliant efforts by skipper Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Monty Panesar.
Much as it may sound clichéd, the momentum lies clearly with England and they will be in a much better frame of mind, save for the Eden factor. They have won a series in India 27 years ago, and now Cook & co are on the verge of emulating David Gower’s band of 1984-85.
India will require a forceful effort to stop the Englishmen, and offering a rank turner could be a strategy that could easily backfire. To add to the existing chaos, all sort of controversies have surrounded the preparation of the 22-yard surface at the Eden. CAB curator Prabir Mukherjee has been quite adamant in his view that the Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s demand for a turner is “immoral.”
Mukherje is keen to prepare a sporting track that will last all five days, though Dhoni didn’t express his displeasure over the pitch, merely stating that “looks a good wicket.” But it’s quite evident from his words that this may not be the kind of wicket he has been wishing for.
That’s one part. India also will have to do with a couple of fitness worries ahead of the match on the morrow. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who played his 99th Test in Mumbai, may have to wait a little longer for his 100th Test as the offie has been down with flu. Yuvraj Singh, who tapered off after scoring a fifty at Motera, suffered a hit on his hand while taking a catch, though Dhoni downplayed the seriousness of both issues.
“Bhajji has got a flu. That’s the reason he is not here for the practice session. How bad it is we will get to know only later. As for Yuvraj, I don’t think there is anything serious,” he said.
In the case of Harbhajan missing out, that’s the most likely scenario at this stage, Delhi pacer Ishant Sharma will replace him.
“The fast bowlers, if you see this time of the year, they get a bit of swing both at the start of the play and close to stumps. The role of fast bowlers will be crucial in this game,” the skipper added, indicating a shift to his favourite two seamers-two spinners formula.
Then India also have to deal with the all-round slump in form of their batting line-up. Apart from Cheteshwar Pujara, no one has been consistent, and Indian think tank will be hoping for a few more runs from Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli.
R Ashwin and Zaheer Khan too need to contribute more than some of their occasionally brilliant spells. But at this stage, England are standing a step ahead.
Teams (from): INDIA: MS Dhoni (capt), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Pragyan Ojha, Murali Vijay, Ashok Dinda, Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, Ajinkya Rahane.
ENGLAND: Alastair Cook (capt), Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Samit Patel, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Meaker, Joe Root, Graham Onions, Steven Finn, Eoin Morgan.
Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena (Sri Lanka), Rod Tucker (Australia); Third umpire: V Kulkarni; Match referee: Jeff Crowe (New Zealand).