Cricket: England desperate to avoid India nadir
Unless Alastair Cook's team win or, at least, draw the second Test in Mumbai, which begins tomorrow, they are on course to record the worst year for an England side in terms of Test losses.
Eight defeats are the most suffered by England previously – in 1984, 1986 and 1993 – but that was before central contracts and a support staff that spilt over into double figures.
The current team, having begun the year as the world's No 1 Test side, have lost seven matches so far. With three left, a new nadir could be set if the rot is not stopped, a decline that would speak more of complacency than legacy.
Fortunately, they possess the resources and resourcefulness to return to winning ways, despite their poor record in Asian conditions this year, where they have lost five out of six Tests. The nine-wicket defeat in Ahmedabad was a drubbing, after they were outclassed on the first three days, but Cook and Matt Prior have shown how runs can be scored on slow, gripping pitches while England's bowlers have also been given a blueprint of how to get wickets on them, albeit from their opponents.
The Test strip here at the Wankhede Stadium, which is composed of red soil, has been used recently for a Ranji Trophy match three weeks ago.
Sachin Tendulkar made 137 in Mumbai's first innings against Railways, but it was a batsman's paradise with 1,226 runs being scored for just 25 wickets, as the game petered out to a draw.
It is difficult to recall a Test pitch being so obviously worn before a ball has been bowled, though it has obviously been levelled out, watered and rolled since Sachin last took guard. Its condition guarantees two things: Monty Panesar will definitely play for England (in place of Tim Bresnan), despite his sketchy Test record in India (11 wickets at 55.9) and the ball will spin, which gives Cook's team a better chance of winning than if it was flat – Panesar and Swann being broadly on a par with India's spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha.
England's bowlers struggled for wickets in the last match, so anything that gives them more chance to take them – and the pitch should also offer some extra bounce and turn – will be welcome.
Where the visitors are at a disadvantage is in combating spin, with at least half the top six not yet as competent as their Indian counterparts.
With Ian Bell back at home with his wife and newborn son, England will make at least one change, with either Jonny Bairstow or Eoin Morgan coming in. (© Daily Telgraph, London)