Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire
Would you believe that the above verses, immortalised by the great Johnny Cash, had played a huge role in England’s massive 212-run win at the Wankhede in 2006? Soon after registering a rare victory on Indian soil — one which helped England finish the three-match series with a 1-1 scoreline — Andrew Flintoff said his boys had set the tone for the remainder of the final day by singing along and thumping their feet to the iconic number during the lunch break. That very Test match also saw the ever-knowledgeable crowd do the unthinkable: boo a certain Sachin Tendulkar for his dismal show in the first innings. What’s more, as soon as the presentation ceremony began, the stadium resounded with chants of “Bring back Sourav”. That was the Greg Chappell era, you see.
To put it simply, India had had a harrowing time when they last played England at the Wankhede. Andrew Strauss, James Anderson, Shaun Udal and skipper Flintoff were the men who made the difference. Anderson is the only one around and, come to think of it, the pace spearhead is actually in familiar territory. England were down 0-1 in 2006 too, but the Wankhede Test was Anderson’s first of the series. This time, he’s suffered the indignity of returning figures of 27-7-75-1 (the ‘1’ here is the scalp of Zaheer Khan, in the 158th over). Anderson bowled only two overs in India’s hour-long second essay before Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli ended the visitors’ misery.
But come Friday and a different story could pan out. And India would do well by not writing off their opponents. Let’s face it: England had one — OK, two — bad sessions in the first innings and that cost them the Test. Yes, Alastair Cook’s 176 and his defiant partnership with Matt Prior didn’t get the job done, but it sure taught the others a noble truth that tackling spin is no rocket science.
England will be in less-alien surroundings in Mumbai. The pitch here is usually a ‘true’ one (sporting is too abused an adjective) with consistence bounce. In other words, the ball won’t cost the batsman his ankle bone at least on Day One! MS Dhoni has demanded a super turner, but how do you turn a riverbed into a desert in just two days? The Wankhede pitch has a solid base and all the curator can do is stop watering it to aid ‘deterioration’ to some extent. But going by what he said in Ahmedabad, Dhoni wouldn’t be happy with anything but an under-prepared wicket!
So Anderson and his mates — Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan (let’s see if he plays) — can take heart from the fact that the pitch here will aid their style of bowling. The ball will swing in the first hour of play — aren’t the mornings cooler? — and no fast bowler worth his salt would mind that. The other notable feature of playing at the Wankhede is the sea breeze that will make its way into the arena after tea. It may not be as menacing as the Freemantle Doctor in Perth but cross-ventilation is always welcome.
“We would like to go to Kolkata with the scoreline 1-1,” batsman Jonathan Trott said on Wednesday. “We know we didn’t play well in Ahmedabad, but Cooky and Matty showed us how it can be done. We hope to learn from them and execute the same in Mumbai,” he added.
It’s been 28 years since England won a series on Indian soil; but you know what, they’d begun the series with a loss. It would be foolhardy to write them off so early.