A series that started as a close contest between two top Test nations have oscillated so much that before the start of the fourth Test between hosts England and visitors India, both teams look jittery. Three Tests of contrasting styles and results later, England have a slender 2-1 lead that is now reliant on the spin of the coin and the swing in the air.
After a tight loss at Edgbaston and a hammering at Lord’s, India were given a next to nothing chance of bouncing back. However, this Virat Kohli-led side has made a mockery of expectations in the past and with their ability to rise from the dead, have put the Phoenix to shame!
It was, of course, the tons of runs from Kohli’s blade (440 runs, Avg. 73.33) making up for the lost time in 2014, that’s driving them. Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara have exhibited sparks of form in the third Test and may have done so at the right time.
England had their share of problems even in their victories, and only an inconsistent India camouflaged those gaping worries. Alastair Cook is in desperate search of a bat that can give him some runs and evade the edge off Ishant Sharma’s bowling, while skipper Joe Root seems to have been sorted out by the Indian pacers.
Rahane has happy memories of the ground, having stroked twin 50s in the 2014 Test. Whereas, Ishant Sharma needs to snare Cook once more to join Morne Morkel on 12 dismissals of the English opener. Indian skipper Virat Kohli is just six runs short of completing 6,000 Test runs.
Runs from Jonny Bairstow (206 runs, Avg. 41.20) and Chris Woakes (149 runs, Avg. 74.50) have been a welcome change, but there is a sense of desperation to find the key to their batting woes. Had it not been for James Anderson’s skill with the ball (17 wickets), the series score could easily have been reversed!
The last time these sides met at the Rose Bowl, Southampton was in 2014 – their only meeting in Southampton – when an under-fire Cook and a steaming Anderson propelled England to a 266-run victory.
Players to watch: Whichever way you see it, this could be a massive Test for Cook. What he does over the next five days could determine his future and it was exactly under the same circumstances that he scored 95 and 70* in 2014. While, after proclaiming that he wants to be Hardik Pandya and not the next Kapil Dev, the Indian all-rounder has the onus to perform.
Stat attack: Only once on English soil have India managed to win back-to-back Tests, in 1986.
India Predicted Playing XI: Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Lokesh Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, and Jasprit Bumrah
England Predicted Playing XI: Cook, Jennings, Root (c), Bairstow, Stokes, Buttler (w), Moeen Ali, Curran, Rashid, Broad, Anderson