LONDON: Rarely has a Test series flipped so abruptly. After the second Test at Lord’s, India were hailed as a more resilient version, finally capable under the enlightened leadership of MS Dhoni of competing over five days outside Asia. As for England, Alastair Cook’s captaincy was vociferously condemned and a new leadership group, from the coach, Peter Moores, to the national selector, James Whitaker, were desperately seeking any form of consolation. Two Tests later and the final stage in this Investec Test series has taken on an entirely different complexion. India’s team selection has been strange, resilient is the last word that would be used to describe their pitiful batting display in the second innings at Old Trafford and it is Dhoni’s wicket-keeping and tactics that are now under scrutiny with his side 2-1 down with one to play.
As for Cook, respect for the way he stuck things out at the Ageas Bowl when the going was tough has blossomed into a general acceptance that his inner steel makes him England’s obvious leader in Test cricket for years to come. How could we ever have thought any differently? Devotees of momentum can only conclude that the series is as good as over. But The Oval is not a bad place for India to make their last stand. The pitch will lack the pace of Old Trafford and England’s new-ball bowlers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, have already shouldered a heavy burden. India’s campaign against Anderson, though, has given them extra determination to see it through.
Initial descriptions of Stuart Broad’s protective covering after his nose was broken by a Varun Aaron bouncer at Old Trafford made it sound as if he would be wearing some kind of fearsome Promethean face mask. Sadly, that is not quite the case, although he will wear a nose splint to disguise the temporary damage to his boy-band countenance and after coming through a net session in good order he will be in the mood for some heavy chords. India’s thoughts will centre once more on Virat Kohli. For such a feted player to fail so abysmally has been the turn-up of the series. This should have been the series in which he proved his class. Instead, Anderson has unpicked him with ease and he has still to pass 50 in eight attempts. He has one final chance to respond.
A fast, bouncy pitch in south London might have been enough to win Steven Finn a Test recall, but those days have long gone and expectations are that England will retain the side that won so impressively inside three days at Old Trafford. Finn joined up with England after taking four wickets for the Lions against Sri Lanka A, but they were expensive wickets and his display was not quite as impressive as some reports made out. After being ruled out of the last two Tests with a leg injury, Ishant Sharma, hero of their victory in the second Test at Lord’s, could return in place of Pankaj Singh, whose popularity has been in inverse proportion to his wickets. Gautam Gambhir looks set to keep the opening slot. Stuart Binny cannot be entirely discounted as a possible replacement for Ravindra Jadeja.
England: Alastair Cook (capt), Sam Robson, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Chris Jordan, Stuart Broad, James Anderson.
India: Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Ravindra Jadeja/Stuart Binny, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma/Pankaj Singh, Varun Aaron.
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