N ANANTHANARAYANAN | HT
India’s most famous Test win on English soil came at the Oval 47 years ago, which is also their only win at this famous venue in 12 trips. However, the last game in 2014 ended in an innings defeat with a demoralised India, 1-2 coming here, routed for 148 and 94.
Skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri though will seek inspiration from India’s maiden Test win in England in 1971 here for the historic series. They have promised to fight on despite losing the Southampton Test in four days to concede India’s third series in a row in England.
India’s lower-order batsmen came unstuck on a dry Ageas Bowl pitch last week with off-spinner Moeen Ali taking nine wickets by exploiting the rough caused by bowlers’ footmarks. The Oval pitch has some grass, but is dry and is expected to give pacers the upper-hand in the first two days before spinners make a mark, a pattern seen over the last 10 years and 10 games.
England has a 4-4 win-loss record at the Oval in the last decade, including two innings wins over India. Off-spinner Graeme Swann was a key wicket-taker in the 2009 win over Australia and the 2011 defeat of India.
However, India’s potent pace attack has taken 20 wickets in three of the four Tests and can take a leaf out of Pakistan’s win here in 2016, when they first struck with the pace of Mohammad Amir, Sohail Khan and Wahab Riaz — they shared 10 wickets – and then with leg-spinner Yasir Shah (5) and off-spinner Iftikhar Ahmed (1).
England’s win over South Africa last year too followed the same script. The first two innings saw pacers take 19 wickets. In the second innings though, SA left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj took three of the seven England wickets before Moeen’s 4/45 sealed the 239-run victory.
The key for India will be their batsmen’s shot selection. Top-order batsmen have traditionally done well at the Oval and India openers can look to set right their poor record so far in the series, where they have failed to score a fifty. It will be an important toss to win for Kohli – he has lost all four tosses – as batting first will help put pressure on England in the fourth innings.
India though could miss off-spinner R Ashwin, who struggled in Southampton. Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja could play for the first time in this series. In his last Test against England, at Chennai in December 2016, Jadeja took eight wickets in one session to bowl India to victory.
If India pick an extra batsman, and go for uncapped Hanuma Vihari over Karun Nair, he can also bowl off-spin. With Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul struggling, 18-year-old Prithvi Shaw too could be handed his debut and that will bring players who are fresh.
England will again look to hit India with pace and spin to give retiring Alastair Cook a victorious farewell. England spearhead James Anderson needs five scalps to surpass Glenn McGrath’s (563) tally and become Test cricket’s most successful pacer.
Although the England management had spoken about resting Anderson, 36, at some point, their second-most capped player is unlikely to miss out record holder Cook’s final
England’s big issue is whether the team management can prevail upon Jonny Bairstow to give up keeping and bat at No 4. Jos Buttler kept wickets in Southampton as Bairstow was recovering from a broken finger, but the player is adamant he doesn’t want to give up keeping long term. Lack of focus showed at the Ageas Bowl as he was out for six and duck, trying to hit the first ball. (By arrangement with HT Media)