Alastair Cook’s England will try to clear their final hurdle in India with depleted resources but a collective strength of purpose.
Stuart Broad was already ruled out of contention for this morning’s final Test with a bruised heel before fellow seamer Steven Finn’s participation was placed 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 Nagpur 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, all the more so if it comes to pass without the help of Finn in particular.
Cook is confident he still has the right men on his side to 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 during yesterday’s pre-match media briefing.
“We know how hard we’ve worked over these last couple of games and we’ve got to do it again.”
Successive victories, by 10 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 this Test 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, and 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 due to make a final call on Finn’s fitness this morning.
Last night, it was suggested they would play safe, unwilling to risk a premier fast bowler in a two-man pace attack through fear of causing more longer term damage.
With Finn struggling, England were left with just three fully-fit seamers, with either Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan or Graham Onions presumably battling to partner the admirable 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.
However, 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, in the same city where Cook marked his Test debut six years ago with a maiden century, 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.
Cook has mixed feelings over returning to Nagpur but not to the same ground where he began his international career.
But if he can lead his team to a historic series victory, there will be only deserved elation.
“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. “It’s a shame in one way that we’re not playing at that old stadium, for me as a personal thing.
“For me personally, the other one had a lot of sentimental value. But I hope by the end of these five days this one will do as well.”