London: England is on the verge of putting to bed one of the most trying chapters in its Test cricket history.
India could still extend it, however, in the fifth and final Test at the Oval starting on Friday.
A summer for England that began with a first ever Test series defeat on home soil to Sri Lanka worsened when India won the second Test at Lord’s to lead this series 1-0. With his captaincy and position on the line, and at risk of losing his main bowler, Alastair Cook led his side’s fightback at the Rose Bowl and Old Trafford to be in front 2-1.
Humiliated by an innings and 54-run defeat at Old Trafford, India can still save face by winning the final Test and tying the series. Here are five things to know ahead of the match:
Ali has India in a spin:
Moeen Ali, again, was the second-innings star for England in the Old Trafford test, taking 4-39 as India was bowled out for 161. His performance followed match-winning, second-innings figures of 6-67 at the Rose Bowl.
The lack of an obvious replacement for the retired Graeme Swann led England at the start of the series to go for an unbalanced all-pace attack and pick Ali as a batsman who could spin a bit. But his offspin has emerged as a major weapon, an unexpected bonus for England, and covered up for his batting weakness against pace bowling. His 19 wickets in the series are second only to Ray Illingworth’s 20 in 1967 by an England spinner at home against India.
India top order yet to fire:
Despite half of day two being lost to rain, the fourth test was won by England in three days, as it bowled India out for 152 and 161. India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was furious with his side’s effort, and hinted he had been unhappy with his vaunted batsmen throughout the series.
“To some extent, the performance of No. 8, 9, 10 and 11 so far in the series has camouflaged the question of the top order not performing,” Dhoni said. The biggest disappointment has been No. 4 Virat Kohli, who has a career average of 40 but a series average of 14. His shortcomings have been a big factor in India’s inability to create scoreboard pressure.
Anderson targets Botham record:
James Anderson is eight wickets away from overtaking Ian Botham’s record haul of 383 and becoming England’s leading wicket-taker in tests. Anderson managed five dismissals in the fourth test to be on 376, and will back himself at the Oval.
It has been a troubled series for Anderson, who at one point was facing a four-test ban from a charge of pushing and abusing Ravindra Jadeja. He admitted it was a distraction during the second and third tests, yet still has a series-leading 21 wickets.
Will India stick or twist? :
India made three changes ahead of the third test, with opening batsman Gautam Gambhir in for Shikhar Dhawan, Ravichandran Ashwin replacing Rohit Sharma to provide a spin option, and Varun Aaron coming in for Mohammed Shami in the bowling attack. Aaron was the most successful, taking 3-97. Ashwin bowled economically, conceding 29 runs from 14 overs but was ultimately wicketless.
Gambhir made only 22 runs in his two innings opening the batting, and will undoubtedly be concerned that Dhawan, averaging 20, may regain his position. India will also be praying fast bowler Ishant Sharma is ready to return from a leg injury that saw him miss the two tests after the victory at Lord’s, where Sharma took test-best figures of 7-74.
Broad has broken nose:
Stuart Broad is expected to start for England, despite missing training on Tuesday after breaking his nose when a bouncer from Aaron crashed through his helmet and into his face during England’s batting innings.
Broad, who was unable to collect his man-of-the-match award for his first-innings bowling figures of 6-25, tweeted that he watched his teammates seal victory from hospital, and he would have to wear a mask at the Oval. He did not specify whether it would just be for batting.