England’s Himalayan home from home as thousands to swarm on Dharamsala

A general a view of the stadium during the 2023 Cricket World Cup match between England and Bangladesh in Dharamsala
The HPCA Stadium in Dharamsala may produce similar conditions to county cricket in early April - Getty Images/Darrian Traynor

Lord’s is not due to host a cricket match until April 5 but the weather in St John’s Wood next week will not be too dissimilar to the chilly conditions that await the final Test of England’s India tour.

The temperature in Dharamsala this weekend is forecast to be around 8C in the daytime, rising to around 14C for the start of the fifth Test next Thursday – the same temperature as long-range forecasts for London. The forecast has improved slightly; a week ago it was predicting sleet and 5C on day one of the Test.

The small Himalayan town of Dharamsala is likely to be swamped by England supporters. It will be by far the most well-attended match by England fans of the tour, with around 5,000 expected, and they will need to wrap up warm, as if watching county cricket in early April. By contrast, there were only a couple of hundred supporters in Ranchi and Rajkot.

India’s win in Ranchi denied the series a deciding match in Dharamsala, where due to the fresh conditions, it is likely to be a seamer-friendly pitch although time may well be lost to the weather.

The ground attracted criticism during the World Cup for a patchy outfield and players were warned not to slide-stop the ball in case their spikes became entangled in the sandy surface and they twisted a joint.

England were very wary of the outfield for their World Cup match against Afghanistan. “It’s just about being smart about it,” said Jonny Bairstow. “The last thing you want is guys going off with knee injuries or something. It will be very difficult to hold someone back if they see a ball and they try to stop it – it’s a natural reaction to go for it.”

England warm up with a football during a nets session at Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium on October 08, 2023 in Dharamsala
England warm up with a football during a World Cup nets session at HPCA Stadium in Dharamsala - Getty Images/Gareth Copley

Wet weather caused by lingering monsoons led to algae growth on the outfield and damaged the natural grass. A new drainage system has been installed to rectify the problem and local officials believe it has improved and will not be an issue for the Test match. England are still likely to be wary of diving.

The England match will be only the second Test to be played in Dharamsala and it is odd this series is ending there. The tour has taken England off the beaten track and away from the usual Test match venues in India. Ranchi was hosting its first Test since 2019 and Vizag only its third. This was put down to the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s ground rotation policy and awarding matches to venues that missed out on World Cup games last year.

However, Dharamsala hosted five World Cup fixtures and combined with the weather at this time of year it makes it a gamble to play there. It is fortunate the series is not locked at 2-2 because it would be a shame for the deciding match to be ruined by rain.

Other venues such as Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi are available and the Women’s Premier League is currently being played in Bangalore.

But politics plays a part in ground selection. Anurag Thakur is the former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh and past president of the cricket association. He captained the state in one Ranji Trophy match to qualify as a selector under BCCI conditions. He later went on to be president of the governing body and is a leading figure in the ruling BJP Party, serving currently as Minister for Sport, Youth Affairs and Minister of Information and Broadcasting.

The England squad have separated across India with some paying their own money to stay and play golf in Bangalore – a trip organised by Bairstow as he prepares for his 100th Test next week.

The four non-golfers – Mark Wood, Ben Stokes, Shoaib Bashir and Ben Foakes – have travelled with the non-golfing members of management to Chandigarh, a base provided for them by the BCCI. They join up together again in Dharamsala on Monday, beginning Test match preparations the following day.

If it is a green seaming pitch England may well consider Gus Atkinson for the first time, giving him a chance in a dead rubber. It depends on the fitness of James Anderson, who suffered a quad strain in Ranchi. Anderson is two wickets short of his 700th in Test cricket.