India will eye an unassailable series lead against England as captain Virat Kohli searches for form with the bat when the third Test of the five-match series begins at Headingley, Leeds, on Wednesday.

Kohli’s last international century came in November 2019 and though he has scored a couple of 40s in the series so far, the expectations are high from the 32-year-old.

The form of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane had also been a cause of concern for India but the experienced duo batted for almost 50 overs on day four of the Lord’s Test and were responsible for taking the game to the final day before the Indian pacers scripted a famous win.

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The performances of openers Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul have been a big plus for India in the batting department. Both have shown remarkable temperament and technique in testing conditions to give the team solid starts.

Rahul, who was drafted into the playing XI in place of the injured Mayank Agarwal, has grown in confidence with each innings, which is critical for success in English conditions. Rohit too has looked in sublime touch and will be keen to continue taking responsibility at the top of the order.

“The opening combination overseas is one of the most important factors,” said Kohli in the pre-match press conference on Tuesday. “KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma have been outstanding. We hope they continue in the same way. They put us in winning positions in both the Tests.”

When asked to explain what are the challenges of batting in English conditions, where the ball seams and swings consistently, Kohli gave an honest opinion.

“You can never say in England that now you are set. You have to leave your ego in your pocket and come to the crease. The conditions are not same as they are in other places where you reach 30-40 and know that you can pick balls for your shots,” he said.

“You have to bat the same way you bat for your first 30 runs and then repeat the same template till it is possible. Discipline and patience are required in England. If you are not patient in England you can get out at anytime, no matter how experienced you are or how many runs you have under your belt. You need good decision making because the conditions in England are toughest in the world, in my opinion,” he added.

Rishabh Pant will look to convert his starts into big scores while Ravindra Jadeja, who is in the team more as a batsman than as a spinner, will be expected to play a key all-round role for his team.

With conditions expected to be cold and favourable for pacers at Headingley, India are likely to retain the four-prong pace attack, leaving no space for Ashwin Ravichandran once again.

“We don’t have any reason to change anything (in terms of team combination). Unless anyone has a niggle which hasn’t been the case over the past few days. There’s no reason to change a winning combination,” said Kohli ahead of the third Test.

In terms of Ashwin’s inclusion, Kohli said: “We were very surprised to see the pitches (in the first two Tests). But anything is possible. We name 12 players and anyone could play.”

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Shardul Thakur is fully fit but it is unlikely that Kohli will make any changes in the pace attack which won India the game on day five at Lord’s.

Ishant Sharma, who had not played the opening Test, was really impressive at Lord’s and the vastly experienced pacer is likely to be preferred over Thakur.

The potency of India’s pace attack has been increased by Mohammad Siraj, who was sensational on day five and has impressed one and all with his relentless accuracy.

“Siraj is a skillful bowler and he has the belief now. The confidence and execution is great. I’m very happy with his performances. He isn’t afraid and won’t take a backward step,” said Kohli.

India last played at Headingley in 2002 when they registered a famous win by an innings and 46 runs. None of the current players have the experience of playing on this ground and it will be interesting to see how they adapt to the challenge.

“We’re playing Test cricket for the first time here. For us it’s just a match against England, be it anywhere in the world. The venue doesn’t matter, all our energy is focussed on our game,” said Kohli.

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England, on the other hand, will be hoping their batting unit fires with the inclusion of Dawid Malan. The left-hander last played a Test three years ago but his team will expect him to deliver considering his rich first-class experience.

Malan will bat at No 3, moving Haseeb Hameed up the order to open alongside Rory Burns. England’s batsmen have to find a way to score and help skipper Joe Root, who has made of the bulk of the team’s runs so far.

Mark Wood, who troubled the Indian batsmen with his extra pace, is injured and that puts Saqib Mahmood in line to make his Test debut on Wednesday.

Ahead of the game, Root confirmed that barring Wood, the team is not facing any fitness issues with lead pacer James Anderson also in good shape.


India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Mayank Agarwal, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wicketkeeper), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, KL Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Prithvi Shaw, Suryakumar Yadav.

England: Joe Root (captain), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler (wicketkeeper), Sam Curran, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Saqib Mahmood, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson.

The third Test between England and India begins at 3.30 pm IST on Wednesday.

Inputs from PTI