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Curator promises a sporting track

Ishant Sharma

London/Calcutta: Chief curator Nigel Gray at the Rose Bowl in Southampton has promised a “good pitch” with a covering of grass ahead of the third Test between India and England, which begins on Sunday.

“It’s firm, there is a covering of grass on it, so it is looking like it will be a good pitch to me,” Gray told BBC Radio on Thursday.

Hampshire head groundsman Gray believes the pitch is in good shape for the match. “It won’t be as grassy as Lord’s was when that Test started, it will be much more like the Test we had against Sri Lanka three or four years ago, which was a good pitch. It went through… there was a bit in it for the bowlers and the batsman can play their shots, so I’m expecting very similar…” he said.

“It’s the same 22 yards so it looks like it should be a good pitch again but you never can really tell until you start playing on it. But there is no reason to think it won’t be very good,” Gray said.

The Trent Bridge pitch for the first Test was rated “poor” by the International Cricket Council. It attracted criticism from both ex-players and the media.

The Lord’s Test, which England lost, was a greentop but flattened out as the match progressed.

“We want it to have a little bit of assistance for the seamers if possible rather than being a flat road. We want a decent balance between bat and ball,” Gray said.

Gray admitted to a few nerves ahead of the first ball and revealed they had met with ECB representatives over how they wanted the pitch to be. “I don’t feel the pressure. Every groundsman is under scrutiny, as are the players.

“There are a lot of media hours to fill these days so everyone is inspected quite intensely. After 24 years of being head groundsman you still get nervous. I’m confident we’ve produced a good pitch, I just hope it turns out alright and that the players produce a good game of cricket,” Gray said.

Meanwhile, the Indians had their first session at the venue on Thursday. All the players were present as they went through the paces for more than a couple of hours.

The Indians are leading the five-match series 1-0 having won at Lord’s by 95 runs. The nature of the pitch should be good news for Ishant Sharma, who finished with a seven-wicket haul in the second innings, to hasten England’s collapse.

The Indian camp is still undecided on whether to play Ravichandran Ashwin in place of Stuart Binny. The off-spinner didn't find a place in the XI in the first two Tests. Despite the presence of grass, the dry conditions may prompt the thinktank to include the off-spinner.

Binny didn't bowl in the second innings at Lord's and sent down only 10 overs in the first essay.

The outcome of the second Test will obviously give the Indians a boost.

Duncan Fletcher was right in saying at the team's first press briefing upon landing in England, that his team was unpredictable, and this was going to make for some exciting cricket during the series.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja and Stuart Binny, along with the more experienced Ishant, have struck vital blows at various junctures.

It was a memorable win as India ended a 28-year drought at Lord's. Even a greentop couldn't dent the Indians' resolve. Mahendra Singh Dhoni stressed on the mental aspect at the post-match media conference.

“What's important to see is how they are preparing and what their mental approach is,” he said. “Not to talk too much about technique. Technique is important, but mental approach is something very important. I feel what we have done well is to take them to a position where they feel very comfortable within the team. And they feel as if they are wanted in this scenario and have backing of team and not just the captain. That is showing on the field.”

England have been saddled with their own problems. The home side has come in for increasing criticism, having gone 10 Tests without a win and failing to take advantage of a green pitch at Lord’s.