India and England gear up for fifth Test at cyclone- ravaged Chennai from Friday. When England came to Chennai for the series-opening Test in 2008, shortly after the deadly Mumbai attack, the tourists knew emotions would run high in the stands irrespective of the match result. And it did happen rather dramatically as Sachin Tendulkar applied balm to India’s wounds by scoring an unbeaten hundred in a spectacular chase on the final day. England are in a similar situation now and this time with the host city still crawling its way to normality after being ravaged by a cyclone.
Never in his previous 140 Tests could England skipper Alastair Cook have seen a game start without a nets session on the eve. The soggy practice facility here has been deemed unfit for training. But the visitors are not complaining. “Sometimes you do have to remember what happened in the cyclone, when people unfortunately lost their lives. So a net session the day before doesn’t seem quite as important after what people have gone through,” said Cook. Though the stadium bore the brunt of the nature’s fury with a torn sightscreen, broken chairs and damaged floodlights, the pitch did manage to escape unhurt with a little dampness. The venue, which didn’t offer a pretty sight a couple of days ago, has been transformed in no time. And, the pitch looks hard and dry with the sun beating down since Wednesday morning.
Not willing to predict how the pitch would play, Cook made no bones about his side’s intentions to fight hard in what is essentially a dead rubber. India have already wrapped up the series 3-0, but England have a lot to play for. They have been on the road since October, with Bangladesh being their previous port of call, and it has been a bumpy ride through the subcontinent. A positive result would give England and their under-fire Test skipper some relief during the Christmas break before they reassemble for the ODI series starting in January.
Pacer James Anderson, whose remark on Virat Kohli earned him a lot of flak after the Mumbai Test, will sit out with “body soreness”. Stuart Broad’s return to the playing XI is not clear yet, but Cook hinted that left-arm spinner Liam Dawson is in line for his maiden cap. Like Tendulkar’s fitting tribute to Mumbai attack victims, the cricket-starved city would hope for a special performance from one of its home-grown stars — M. Vijay and R. Ashwin. Both are fresh from a stupendous show in India’s win at Mumbai. Vijay who ended his bad patch with a ton looks fluent and the off-spinner who took 12 wickets in the last match is just three short of becoming the fastest to take 250 wickets. Aussie great Dennis Lillee holds the record for achieving the feat in 48 Tests.