In the press conference after losing the third Test to England, India skipper Virat Kohli was a disappointed man but at the same time, he was confident that his team would bounce back in the fourth.
“We like to be in this situation where people start coming at us with doubts and really start questioning the ability of our team,” Kohli had said. “That is the situation we love best.”
Kohli’s words were a measure of how mentally resilient India have become in recent times but it also showed that this is a team that is often let down by the consistency of its batsmen in away Test matches.
The fourth Test between India and England begins at the Oval on Thursday and it is a hard one to predict... not so much because of the quality that we have in both teams but also because of the brittleness of the batting line-ups of both teams.
It is a failing that both skippers will be aware of when they take the field for the toss.
“Now is when the hard work starts,” England captain Root told reporters on Tuesday. “We’ve got to look to go even further, dig deeper and really start to go through the gears”
Root added: “A world-class side like India, led by Virat Kohli, I expect nothing less than a response. It would be naive to think otherwise. We’ve just got ourselves back to level and, if we find ourselves ahead of the game at any stage, we must get ruthless again.”
The Oval tends to usually help the spinners a bit more than other grounds in England and that might allow India to bring R Ashwin into the picture but India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun said the team will only take a call on his inclusion after having a look at the wicket on the morning of the match.
“History at Oval says it takes spin,” Bharat Arun said. “You also know how the English are wary of Ashwin and what he could do if he gets assistance. We know a lot can happen between now and the start of play, so we will take a call tomorrow morning.”
One thing that India won’t be taking a call on in the morning will be the need to ensure that Root does not get off to a fast start. The England skipper has scored three centuries in three Tests in the series and the Indian bowlers have had no answer to him after he’s got set.
“You have hit the nail on the head,” Arun said. “We have given him pretty fast starts. Obviously, we will look deep into those areas and we will stem those.”
But Arun has expressed complete confidence in the bowlers, despite their struggles in the third Test. It did look like they were outbowled by England’s pacers but the Indian team management dismissed it as a one-off.
“Each bowler has got their own strength,” said Arun. “We need to understand that first. It was the one odd performance. We bowled them out for 183 in the first Test. In the second, we got them out under 60 overs. I don’t think we need to be harsh on the bowlers. They understand what needs to be done and are well prepared.”
Ishant Sharma did look a little knackered in the last game but Arun felt his problems have been sorted out. Shardul Thakur might be an option the team would look at given his batting abilities as well.
India’s other big and consistent worry has been the middle order. While Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara found some form, Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant continue to struggle. The team management has expressed confidence in the vice-captain and backed the wicketkeeper to play his natural game.
Some experts, including former India skipper Sunil Gavaskar, have felt that India could benefit from playing an extra batsman but that is something Kohli is completely against.
England, on the other hand, wear a settled look. Dawid Malan, in his comeback match, looked good while Mark Wood’s blistering pace and Chris Woakes’s incisive swing bowling will give Root even more options to play with.
Jonny Bairstow is expected to keep wickets as Jos Buttler has taken a break with his wife expecting their second child. But that shouldn’t make a huge difference to India as Buttler wasn’t exactly scoring too many runs.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Mayank Agarwal, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), 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, Shardul Thakur
England: Joe Root (C), Moeen, Anderson, Bairstow, Billings, Rory Burns, Sam Curran, Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Malan, Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.
Match starts 3.30 pm.
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