England have a fine opportunity to return home heroes even if those vital T20s are lost.
The out-of-town stadium, in stark contrast to what we encountered in Kolkata, was gleaming two days before the match. At Eden Gardens at this stage in proceedings there was litter everywhere, pigeon feathers – and worse – scattered around the press and commentary boxes and much to be done. Even the pitch in Kolkata had seen better days though in the end it played to the satisfaction of nearly everyone except the India captain.
But all is spruce in Nagpur. England will play in a symmetrical modern arena so far out of town that there must be concerns about the size of the crowd. School kids can come in free if they can find a way to get there – and return home. The man in charge of the ground, Praveen Hingnikar, a cheerful former first-class cricketer, smiled as everyone sought a glimpse of his pitch. Like Mr Mukherjee up in Kolkata, he seems to revel in all the attention.
His surface looks even and dry; it possesses some grass. It has not been used recently. Mr Hingnikar was asked: "When will the ball start to turn?"
"Today," he replied mischievously. The outfield is like a carpet, prone to dew in the heavy shadows of lofty stands but he assured us that he has the wherewithal to mop that up in time for the start of play – at 9.30am. Even though the ground is new the press box already has a stately charm. There are pictures of Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, Ted Dexter, the Nawab of Pataudi and Garry Sobers; there is even one of Duncan Fletcher batting for Zimbabwe against Australia in the 1983 World Cup. There is also a photograph of the great Neville Cardus of the Manchester Guardian, looking out quizzically as if wondering: "Are they going to put up Samit Patel or Graeme Swann today for the nannies?"
On Tuesday they went for Swann, who is usually a reliable source of the odd one-liner. But England's off-spinner, so influential in the series so far and with his union alongside Monty Panesar flourishing for the first time at this level, was stern-faced and serious. Not a single joke. Instead there was mere, unarguable common sense, which is not always Swann's first priority in these sessions.
He spoke of the unity of purpose that is so vital for a successful trip to this country. "After losing that game in Ahmedabad and with our previous results in India it might have been very easy to get in that rut of losing games, travelling round and losing another one with the feeling that you can't wait to get home at the end of it, rather than focusing on winning the next game.
"There was a lot of focus and energy to ensure that this tour was not going to be like that. Whether from the management or senior players it was made very clear that Mumbai was a chance to level the series and anybody who didn't see it that way wasn't welcome in the dressing room."
In this frame of mind no one gets too het up about the nature of the playing surface that might be encountered. The tourists are prepared to take what comes. Swann said he had not examined the pitch in Nagpur, recognising that there is not much point in him wasting energy agonising about that.
"Whatever the pitch is like we've got to try and win the game." Which makes absolute sense. A draw does not seem an option here.
India have played three Tests at this venue, winning two – against New Zealand in November 2010 and Australia in November 2008 in the match when Jason Krejza, making his debut for the tourists, contrived to take 12 for 358 with his profligate off-breaks. In between India lost to South Africa by an innings in February 2010: Hashim Amla hit an unbeaten 253 and Dale Steyn was among the wickets. So seamers and spinners, as well as good batsmen, have prevailed here. Chicanery does not seem to be required for a good result pitch in Nagpur.
The expectation is that England will have an unchanged side. In Kolkata it became obvious that they had their best bowling attack for Indian conditions on the field. Ian Bell made a critical little contribution on the final day to consolidate his place. Samit Patel may be the most vulnerable man in the side but they are likely to keep him for this game.
For India Ravindra Jadeja, a gifted 24-year-old all-rounder, who has already played 58 ODIs, will surely make his Test debut, replacing Yuvraj Singh. Zaheer Khan's replacement is harder to predict. Ashok Dinda and Parvinder Awana offer pace while Piyush Chawla propels leg-breaks.
These players represent the new generation of Indian cricket, but inevitably the focus on one of the older generation will be even more intense. Nowadays we watch every Sachin Tendulkar innings intently – just in case.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Graham Dean