ALASTAIR Cook’s England will try to clear their final hurdle in India with depleted resources, but a collective strength of purpose.
Stuart Broad is already out of contention for the final Test with a bruised heel and fellow seamer Steven Finn’s participation is in grave doubt after scans revealed the source of pain in his lower back as a disc strain.
Cook is nonetheless convinced that what England may lack in fit bodies will be countered by their will to finish what they have started.
One more victory, or even a draw, in the final Test due to get under way at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur early this morning, will turn an unassailable 2-1 lead into series victory, the like of which England have not known since 27-year-old Cook was a babe in arms. It will be a remarkable achievement.
Cook is confident he still has the right men on his side to secure victory over the next few days and help make his first tour as permanent captain one to remember.
“We always desperately wanted to win this series and we’ve got an opportunity to try to do that,” he said. “We know how hard we’ve worked over these last couple of games and we’ve got to do it again.”
Successive victories, by ten wickets and seven in Mumbai and Kolkata respectively, have brought England this far, all after a chastening opening defeat in Ahmedabad.
“I don’t think they’ll say it’s been easy,” Cook said of his team. “There is a lot of skill and hard work that’s gone into it. I’ve got to ask the guys from one to 11 in the lucky XI who get to play tomorrow to produce that same kind of guts and determination we’ve shown in the last two games again.
“We’re here to do a job and that job is still on. We said at the beginning of the series we wanted to win it and we’ve put ourselves in a situation where we’ve got a chance to do that. We’re desperately keen not to let that chance go.”
Cook must set aside the magnitude of what is almost within England’s grasp to ensure they raise their game one last time.
“Always on the eve of any Test match, you’re nervous,” he added. “It’s an incredible situation we find ourselves in and we’ve played some really good cricket to get there.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the character we’ve shown. I think I said after Ahmedabad that if we could play close to our potential we have a chance of winning. That last game was a real team effort from everyone. You can’t really fault any of the guys, the way we contributed, and we’re going to need more of that here.”
England were not due to make a final call on Finn’s fitness until shortly before the action started this morning, but it is hard to believe they will risk, in both the immediate and longer term with back-to-back Ashes looming next year, a premier fast bowler in a two-man pace attack when he has a disc injury. They are left with just three fully-fit seamers, with either Tim Bresnan or Graham Onions presumably partnering James Anderson.
While England grapple with the injury troubles so often the lot of touring teams, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s hosts are fire-fighting themselves as critics seek answers as to why India are in danger of a first home series defeat since 2004.
Cook, unsurprisingly, made it clear England will waste no energy contemplating the plight of their opponents. “It’s not for us to worry about, what’s happening in the other camp,” he added. “They’re going to be desperately keen not to let their home record be broken, just as keen as we are to try to break it. So it’s going to be a hell of a battle out there.”
If England win the series, the cricketers will at last have some of the limelight after being overshadowed for much of 2012 by the sporting excellence of so many other Britons.
“It’s been an amazing sporting year for a lot of people and it’d be great if we can finish it off with a victory,” Cook said.