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Winter chill, used pitch as anticipation builds for Dharamsala Test between India and England

“Sometimes even when you are playing in India, it looks like an away game for you,” R Ashwin said, referring to the conditions at the hill venue.

Just before Joe Root was about to wrap up his long batting stint in the nets on Tuesday, a peal of laughter pervaded the England camp. Root had just successfully unfurled a reverse scoop off a throwdown by bowling coach Jeetan Patel, prompting captain Ben Stokes to raise his arms and remark in jest: “What is that shot?”

Andy Brown, a British artist, paints the cricket field during a practice session at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium in Dharamsala (AFP)

Against the backdrop of Root getting dismissed while attempting the reverse scoop in the third Test at Rajkot, their session on Tuesday seemed to suggest two things: he is unlikely to abandon that shot anytime soon and the mood in the England camp continues to be upbeat despite India claiming an unassailable 3-1 series lead.

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The perception going into the final Test is that England will find conditions in Dharamsala closest to their traditional comforts. The minimum temperature in the hill town on Tuesday was around 7 degrees Celsius, and rain is expected to interrupt proceedings during the Test.

Two days out from the game though, the pitch is devoid of grass and can be expected to be good for batting at least initially, with India understandably keen not to play into England’s hands when vital World Test Championship (WTC) points are up for grabs. The overhead conditions may keep England’s seamers interested right through the game, but India – they are buoyed by the return of Jasprit Bumrah to the squad – are just as capable of exploiting any assistance for the pacers.

India will have to decide whether to play two pacers and three spinners as they have done in the first four Tests or opt for the extra seamer. In case they choose the latter option, Kuldeep Yadav may have to make way despite bowling superbly at various stages in this series. It won’t be a straightforward call, however, because the left-arm wrist spinner picked four wickets in the first innings here against Australia in 2017 – the last time a Test was played at this venue.

“Different challenges will be posed in this game. I think the weather is going to be slightly different to where we have played so far,” off-spinner R Ashwin said on Tuesday. “It’s pretty cold here. We haven’t got a lot of practice here. That’s the beauty. There are a lot of unknowns. Sometimes even when you are playing in India, it looks like an away game for you.”

What will please both teams is that the outfield has been relaid since the end of the ODI World Cup in October-November, minimising the risk of injury. At the 50-over marquee event, various teams had raised concerns about the sandy patches in the outfield.

“They’ve done a brilliant job with the field for a start, if you look back at the field from the World Cup, the transition that has been made to produce something like that has been amazing,” said Jonny Bairstow, who is set to play his 100th Test. Bairstow also mentioned that they will be playing on a used pitch from the Ranji Trophy last month. The game concerned had led to a 76-run victory for Delhi against Himachal Pradesh. The England batter doesn’t see either team having a distinct advantage because of the surface.

“I don’t think there’s one side the surface favours. Look at the seam attack India have, it’s world class and the spinners… I think it will be a great game. It looks like a nice wicket,” he said.


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