Conditions in Dharamsala set to aid James Anderson’s bid for 700 Test wickets

By Sports Desk March 01, 2024

James Anderson might find conditions more to his liking as he bids to join Test cricket’s 700 club when England regroup for their final assignment of the tour of India next week.

England expect Anderson to be available for the fifth Test in Dharamsala, starting on Thursday, despite a sore thigh which limited his involvement on the last day of their five-wicket defeat in Ranchi.

India’s unassailable 3-1 series advantage leaves only pride and World Test Championship points at stake, but one sub-plot centres on England’s record wicket-taker Anderson.

The evergreen 41-year-old has advanced his tally from 690 to 698 in three outings in India, offering England his customary control on slow, low turners that have largely neutralised his wicket-taking threat.

But his attempt to become the third individual, after Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan and the late Australian Shane Warne, and first fast bowler to reach 700 Test wickets could be aided in Dharamsala.

The HPCA Stadium in the foothills of the Himalayas is renowned as the best venue for seamers in India and is where the national team often goes to train in preparation for tours of England and Australia.

Temperatures in the area have struggled to get into double figures recently and, although the weather is forecast to improve next week, it is unlikely the mercury will get much above 15 degrees Celsius.

Local officials expect the crisp English-like conditions to play into Anderson’s hands, while a recall for express speedster Mark Wood is also on the cards, with the pitch expected to offer pace and bounce.

If Anderson’s quad injury turns out to be more serious, England could hand Gus Atkinson his Test debut, with Ollie Robinson poised to make way after his unflattering return to competitive action in Ranchi. Ben Stokes could supplement the pace bowlers after stepping up his workload in training recently.

There was plenty of carry and consistent movement seven years ago when the Dharamsala venue staged its only Test as India beat Australia, 18 of 30 wickets from bowlers falling to the spinners.

England are therefore likely to stick with Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir as their frontline spin options.

The ground was due to hold another India-Australia contest 12 months ago, but poor outfield conditions led to the Test being shifted to Indore, while the issue reared its head again at last year’s World Cup.

England’s players were cautious about diving in the outfield ahead of a group game against Bangladesh because of the uneven grass coverage and a sandy make-up, leading Jos Buttler to suggest the “integrity of the game” could be compromised.

However, a new drainage system has been installed in an effort to resolve the problem and officials are confident there will be no complaints this time from England, who are due to reassemble as a group on Monday.

Many of the squad are currently in Bangalore on a golfing trip, while Stokes, Wood, Bashir and Ben Foakes, plus the non-golfing members of the backroom staff, are in Chandigarh.

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