There is a series decider coming up. A spot in the final of the World Test Championship at stake for one of the teams and a chance to ruin that, and earn a creditable draw for the other. But somehow, the discussion for the majority of this Test series between India and England has been about the pitches or the balls being used. In the first Test, the pitch was a road for a couple of days and the SG Test ball had a problematic seam. In the second Test, the pitch took turn too early. In the third Test, the pitch took turn as well as the skiddy nature of the SG pink ball came into focus.
It is not the first time, either. A Test series in India is usually incomplete without talk about the conditions. At this stage, however, there is a definite voice coming from the Indian camp that they are tired about this conversation. Rohit Sharma urged the experts to stop debating this, R Ashwin asked what is the definition of a “good pitch” and who makes it, Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli have said that this team have not cribbed about pitches when they tour abroad. The team has repeatedly wanted the discussion to be not about pitches, but only the reverse seems to be happening.
It might not be much different when action resumes on Thursday in Ahmedabad. All indications are that there will be another turning pitch on offer as India and England return to the scene of last week’s hotly debated two-day Test. For the hosts, a draw or win will secure a place in the World Test Championship final where New Zealand await in England from June 18.
The first Test held at the Narendra Modi Stadium, the world’s biggest cricket venue, turned out to be one of the shortest in history as England were thrashed inside two days. The result, which left India 2-1 up in the four-Test series and ruled England out of the final, prompted more to-and-fro that the uber spin-friendly pitch was not up to standard.
Batting under focus
But for Indian captain Virat Kohli, there was not a doubt in his mind. Speaking ahead of the final Test, he reiterated what he said at the end of the match: it was a bizarre game of cricket, with poor batting from both sides. And goodness willing, that is where the debate would turn to when both teams enter the arena for the final match with both sets of batsmen looking to show they are better at handling challenging conditions than they made it out to be.
India vs England head to head
|In India (Overall)||63||14||21||28|
|Since 2000 (in India)||20||4||10||6|
England skipper Joe Root will certainly hope that he will be discussed more for his batting than his bowling after returning extraordinary figures of 5/8 with his part-time off-spin in the match that lasted just 842 balls – the shortest Test since 1935.
The England team have largely moved away from controversy about pitches (the criticism has been led by the former cricketers more than the current ones) during their interactions with the media, and bowling coach Jeetan Patel said the tourists were looking for ways to repel India’s spin attack.
“I expect this Test to be on a spinning wicket,” he told reporters. “We need to find a way, if we won the toss particularly, to put on a decent total first up.”
Spinner Jack Leach said there was more talk about the pitch in the media than in the England dressing room.
“Still a hell of a lot for us to play for,” said Leach, who has 16 wickets in the first three Tests.
“Obviously if we win this game we draw the series. I think that will be a massive effort over here and we should be really motivated to make that happen.”
“In the dressing room, we are just trying to get better and be prepared for this next match,” added Leach.
Root, whose five-for came in India’s first innings of 145, has conceded that England made selection mistakes after their second successive loss.
Dom Bess is expected to join fellow spinner Leach in the team in place of one of the fast bowlers.
India vs England Tests since 2010
|Season||Series winners||Scoreline (Total No of Tests)|
|India in England||2011||England (H)||4-0 (4)|
|England in India||2012/13||England (A)||2-1 (4)|
|India in England||2014||England (H)||3-1 (5)|
|England in India||2016/17||India (H)||4-0 (5)|
|India in England||2018||England (H)||4-1 (5)|
|England in India||2021||___||India lead 2-1|
Little chance of a drawn match
England are the last team to have won a Test series in India and even a draw this time around would be a massive statement from Root’s men. A draw seems highly unlikely at this point in time and a win for either side would have definitive implications for India (and Australia’s) summer plans.
Having entered the 400-Test wicket club, Ashwin Ravichandran will once again spearhead the bowling unit for India which will be missing Jasprit Bumrah. Umesh Yadav is the likely replacement while Kuldeep Yadav’s inclusion was all but ruled out by Kohli because of the need to keep the batting unit balanced in Ravindra Jadeja’s continued absence.
A draw might be the safe option on paper but Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri, with their attacking instincts, wouldn’t like to play a defensive game which at times can be counter-productive.
India will be happy with their spinners, who have delivered what was expected of them, but the batting has left a lot to be desired in the entire series. It’s just that England have been worse in their last four innings.
Rohit Sharma’s 296 runs in three games is 120 runs more than second best Ashwin (176 runs), who got a hundred on a difficult Chepauk track.
Save Rohit, none of the Indian batsmen have felt too comfortable till now on the turners on offer.
Kohli has made two fifties while a century continues to evade him since November 2019. Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Shubman Gill have all had only one innings of note over three Test matches. India will hope for an improved if not exceptional performance from the batting unit.
At this point, after all the debates in the days past, the series could really use the batsmen from either side making a statement with their willows while the bowlers continue to make their lives hard. After all, that’s where the Test lies.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wk), Washington Sundar, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Mayank Agarwal, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, KL Rahul
England: Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Dominic Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Zak Crawley, Ben Foakes, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Ollie Pope, Dom Sibley, Ben Stokes, Olly Stone, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.
With AFP and PTI inputs
The match starts at 9.30 am IST and will be broadcast on Star Sports network and Disney+ Hotstar.