India vs England – fourth Test
India’s most historic Test moment in England came at The Oval during their tour in 1971. And that was the only time India registered a victory at The Oval. Since then, India has visited England many times, played a number of Test matches, but never managed to seal another win at the same ground. Strangely, in the ongoing Test series against England, the India cricket team may lose the chance of winning yet another series in England. With the series level at 1-1, Indians need to make a strong comeback, win the Test convincingly to keep their chance alive for the final and fifth Test match.
India’s performance in England
Statistically, India’s win-loss ratio is 0.612 (30 wins, 49 defeats) against England, which is their worst against any country. Moreover, they already have one instance of losing a Test under the captaincy of Virat Kohli in 2018 at the Oval. This time, the team under Kohli is coming off a heartbreaking performance and disastrous experience. India had a brilliant chance of winning the first Test match in Nottingham. But they missed the chance due to rain. The next match saw them delivering a prolific performance and registering India’s third win so far at the Lord’s, the home of cricket.
The way the Indian team was moving, another clash of titans was expected in the third Test. But at Leeds, Headingly, India was bundled out for just 78- their third-lowest score in Test cricket. In the next innings, there was some resistance, especially from the top-order, but that did not help much. Virat Kohli, who was slowly and steadily scoring runs, failed to score big and had to be satisfied with 55. Cheteshwar Pujara missed a century by nine runs, but India managed to fight back only because of his classic innings. After an innings and 76-run defeat, The Oval Test will be India’s chance of reclaiming lost glory.
There is already pressure on the inconsistent middle-order. There have been talks regarding team selection. Ravindra Jadeja, one of the mainstays of the side, is suffering from an injury while a lot has been already talking about, including Ravi Ashwin to the combination. India has so far trusted on backing the four-pacer option, but this time, the team management may brainstorm over the strategy and combination ahead of The Oval Test.
The Jadeja-Ashwin saga
First and foremost. Will India rope in Ashwin for this much-important Test? Ravindra Jadeja underwent scans after suffering a knee injury reportedly. Although it is not series, there is a chance of him being rested. Not just because he needs it but because the team may want Ashwin more this time. Ashwin had played Country for Surrey and was effective with seven wickets. Moreover, he was effective for India in the World Test Championship against New Zealand, albeit in a losing cause.
He did not have much help from the pitch, but he ended up taking four wickets. Speaking of the form, Ashwin has contributed well enough with both bat and ball for the last few months. Speaking of the calibre and character, Ashwin gave enough glimpse of it in the Australia series. While the middle-order does not look very confident, the presence of a leader like Ashwin in the lower-order may add depth to India’s batting.
The middle-order woes
India’s middle-order has been suffering from bad form for quite some time. With names like Suryakumar Yadav, Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw warming the bench, why is the Indian cricket team continuing with Cheteshwar Pujara-Ajinkya Rahane? The answers are experience and class. Moreover, the last innings of Pujara proved why he is still the most suitable one-down batter for India in Test. On the other hand, the combination of Pujara and Rahane clearly bring stability to the order.
Rahane may not have been at his best, that doesn’t make him out of the question instantly. The Lord’s Test saw what the partnership has to offer for India in troublesome conditions. If we look at the numbers, Rahane averages only 26.25 since the start of 2020, while Cheteshwar Pujara (27.56) and Kohli (24.68) have done nothing extraordinary. If Rahane is to be replaced, Suryakumar Yadav is probably the best option to come in his place in the middle-order. But Suryakumar has yet to play a Test match. His first-class average is 44, but the situation does not look ideal for his debut.
The sixth batter
What India may opt for is a sixth batsman. Hanuma Bihari. Of course, Indian team management can play KL Rahul in the middle and use the options like Shaw available for the opening position. But KL Rahul has made himself comfortable as Rohit Sharma’s partner in Test. So, there is very little chance of India changing the options at the top.
India can, however, call up Hanuma Vihari as the sixth batter. Vihari featured in only Sydney Test earlier this year. He was not great in the Australia series but has been a decent batter for far. Including him means India will be able to play one extra bat, provided that Jadeja is considered a batting all-rounder. This will also reduce the pressure on Rishabh Pant. Pant has had a forgetful series so far in England. Pant got starts in the first two Tests but failed to capitalize on the start. The quick dismissals of a few wickets might have put him under pressure. Having Vihari, a pure bat in the side in place of Jadeja, may help Pant pay more freely.
While talking specifically about bowling, there is not much rain forecast, and this means playing two spinners could be an option. In this case, Kohli may opt for both Jadeja and Ashwin. Kohli earlier spoke about the workload and rotation policy of players. In the post-match conference after the last Test match, Kohli said, “Rotation is bound to happen. It’s a very logical and sensible thing to do. You can’t expect with such turnaround time to play four Test matches in a row.” But opting out Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami in such a match may hamper India’s cause.
In all likelihood, India will drop Ishant Sharma after his out-of-track performance. In this case, Ashwin will come in place of Ishant and work as a bowling all-rounder. Mohammed Siraj also has an excellent number so far and is expected to play the rest of the series as well. There is a bleak chance of Shardul Thakur making the cut. But adding Shardul Thakur means either not adding any extra batter or dropping Bumrah or Shami. Another unwise option for India would be playing with four seamers, including Thakur, and going without any spinner. At this stage, Kohli is unlikely to take such a risk.
Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Racichandra Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj