When the Test series began in England, there were murmurs about this Indian side being well equipped to end their horror overseas run – they had last won a Test series outside Asia and the Caribbean in 2009.
After India had lost the first two Tests and then bounced back to stun England at Trent Bridge, there were murmurs of a Bradman-esque comeback: from a 2-0 deficit to a 3-2 series victory. Then, when it mattered the most in a one-innings shootout at Ageas Bowl, India’s premier spinner R Ashwin struggled to loop the ball into the rough on a bone-dry pitch that was more MA Chidambaram Stadium than Ageas Bowl. The killer blow then came when the batting line-up folded against Moeen Ali, again. All-new series. Same-old story for India.
The series is dead now, but this is by no means the deadest of dead rubbers. Alastair Cook, who made his Test debut against India in 2006, is set to bow out of international cricket against the same team. Since the retirement of Andrew Strauss, in 2012, the England selectors have been endlessly searching for the other opener. Post-Oval, their problems will be doubled. And what’s with Joe Root’s reluctance to bat at No. 3? Word has it, Moeen Ali will continue at one-down at The Oval.
India’s top order is in no healthy shape either. KL Rahul hasn’t produced an innings of note and has looked as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs against the inswinger. He has been dismissed bowled or lbw in six of his eight Test innings here. Shikhar Dhawan has shown greater restraint outside off, and has moved into double figures in each of his six innings, but hasn’t passed 44. So, will 18-year-old Prithvi Shaw, who has been racking up runs and records in domestic cricket and A games, make his international debut at The Oval?
The visitors could also be pondering handing a debut to Andhra batsman Hanuma Vihari, who, like Shaw, has been prolific in domestic cricket and has the experience of playing club cricket in England. And if Wednesday’s net session is anything to go by, Ravindra Jadeja could get his first international game on tour, in place of Ashwin.
England WLWWW (last five Tests, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Sam Curran has played only five innings in this series, but only Virat Kohli and Jos Buttler have made more runs than him. A bulk of Curran’s 251 runs have come when his team has been been in a mess. His blazing 65-ball 63 hauled England from 86 for 6 to 180 in Birmingham and he staged a similar rescue act with the bat in England’s series-clinching victory in Southampton. As for his bowling, he has found sharp swing into India’s right-handers, his awkward angle making things even more difficult for the batsmen. Whatever happens at The Oval, Curran, arguably, will be remembered as the player of the summer for England.
Undoubtedly, Virat Kohli has been the player of the summer for India. After managing only 134 runs in 10 innings in 2014, while getting out to James Anderson four times, the India captain has firmly put the boot on the other foot four years later, with 544 runs so far in two innings fewer. And he hasn’t been dismissed by Anderson in this series though every other England bowler has reeled him in. Kohli v Anderson: who will win round five?
Jonny Bairstow, who had played the Southampton Test as a specialist batsman after fracturing a finger while taking a catch behind the stumps at Trent Bridge, is now fit enough to take back wicketkeeping duties from Jos Buttler. England have named an unchanged XI, which means the recalled pair of Chris Woakes and Ollie Pope will sit out.
England: 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Keaton Jennings, 3 Moeen Ali, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Jos Buttler, 8 Sam Curran, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Stuart Broad, 11 James Anderson
Kohli named an unchanged team for successive Tests for the first time ever at Ageas Bowl, but it’s time to spin the wheel again. India are likely to beef up their batting with the inclusion of Vihari at the expense of an allrounder in Hardik Pandya, who has played all of India’s Tests in the overseas cycle so far, starting with his debut in Sri Lanka last year. Jadeja, meanwhile, is likely to play his first overseas Test since the SSC game in August 2017.
India (probable): 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 KL Rahul, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rishabh Pant (wk), 7 Hanuma Vihari/Hardik Pandya, 8 Ravindra Jadeja/R Ashwin, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Pitch and conditions
There was some live, green grass on the pitch on the eve of the Test match, but it seemed dry underneath – possibly the reason why England have chosen to stick with two spinners. Expect some of the grass to come off before the toss, leaving the captain winning the toss to make the easy decision of batting first. The weather is likely to be fair on day one, with more overcast conditions expected later in the match.
Stats and Trivia
Kohli needs 56 runs to make 600 in a series for the fourth time. He needs 88 runs to surpass Mohammad Yousuf’s tally of 631 and own the record for most runs in a Test series in England.
Cook needs one run to 1000 Test runs at The Oval. Having made over 1000 Test runs at Lord’s, Cook is in line to become the second England player – after Graham Gooch – to reach 1000 Test runs at two different venues.
Ishant Sharma is four wickets away from becoming the top wicket-taker for India in Tests in England. Kapil Dev currently leads the list with 43 wickets in 13 Tests while Ishant has 40 wickets in 11 games.
Stuart Broad needs four wickets to become the fourth-highest wicket-taker among seamers in Test cricket. His team-mate Anderson, Glenn McGrath, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee are ahead of him currently.
England’s lower order (Nos. 7-11) has contributed 697 runs in this series as opposed to India’s lower-order tally of 351.
Cook will join Andrew Flintoff, Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers in officially retiring from international cricket at The Oval.