England hunt whitewash, India need pride
August 18-22, The Oval
Start time 11.00 (1000GMT)
The Big Picture
England celebrated reaching No. 1 in the world with a good night in Birmingham on Sunday but it was soon back to the day job and, four days later, they already face the first test of their new status. The 'dead rubber syndrome' is always a risk when a team has scaled such heights to secure a major goal and Andrew Strauss will be desperate that nothing takes the gloss off the achievements of the last month.
In truth it will take a lot to remove the after-glow of three commanding performances, but this England team are never satisfied. They'll see this final Test at The Oval as a chance to lay down another marker with a show of hunger and desire. Even the great Australian sides under Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh had issues with keeping intensity high when a series was decided. England benefited with a number of one-off Test victories and won't want to offer India a similar opportunity.
It's difficult to see India bouncing back to save face over the next five days. They have been so far off the pace that this is a series they'll want to consign to history as quickly as possible. That, though, will be easier said than done with the fall-out well under way back at home and serious questions being asked of the team. Some of those questions are more sensible than others, but a number of players will be heading back with damaged reputations.
The much-vaunted batting line-up have one more chance to live up to their billing having not reached 300 in the series. The wait goes on for Sachin Tendulkar's 100th hundred, while Gautam Gambhir has disappointed and VVS Laxman hasn't made the most of some decent form. Then there's the challenge of taking 20 wickets. The pace bowlers have all had their moments but, collectively, have not been able to sustain pressure on England.
Praveen Kumar has been a tireless workhorse and Ishant Sharma has kept running in, but they have suffered from not having an economical spinner to tie up an end. If Oval history is anything to go by they could be in for more hard toil.
Form guide(Most recent first)
Watch out for...
It's been a mark of how dominant England's quick bowlers have been that Graeme Swann has been able to get away with his least productive Test series. He bowled nicely at Lord's but conditions haven't been in his favour and he struggled after being hit on the left hand at Trent Bridge, and it would complete the series perfectly if he could play a key role here. It would also quieten talk that he has a weakness against batsmen who attack him - like Mike Hussey did during the Ashes - and with a winter of cricket in the Middle East and subcontinent England will want their premier spinner at the top of his game again.
Sachin Tendulkar has been given a standing ovation every time he has walked to the crease and on most occasions when he's walked back. The problem has been that on none of those occasions as he had a hundred to his name. Even taking into account Tendulkar's lack of match practice before this series - not so much preparation time as he spent hours training at Lord's - and the strength of England's attack a top-score of 56 is still a major surprise. Credit for that goes mainly to the bowlers, especially James Anderson and Stuart Broad, but as India crumbled in the second innings at Edgbaston Tendulkar eased to 40 before being run-out backing up. The series needs a Tendulkar special.
With Jonathan Trott and Chris Tremlett again ruled out the only question mark surrounds James Anderson's fitness. He came through a net session on Wednesday and the talk was positive from the England camp. Steven Finn and Graham Onions remain on standby should he be ruled out. Ravi Bopara, meanwhile, keeps his spot at No. 6 but pressure is growing on him to secure a place on the winter tour.
England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Ian Bell, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Ravi Bopara, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Graeme Swann, 11 James Anderson
Praveen Kumar took a nasty blow on the thumb at Edgbaston and India were unsure about his fitness during training on Wednesday although he bowled a lengthy spell. RP Singh, who impressed on the 2007 tour, could come into the line-up, and he might play even if Praveen is fit with Sreesanth under pressure. A twin-spin attack including Pragyan Ojha is an outside chance, but Ojha could also pressure Amit Mishra. Meanwhile, Suresh Raina has been sorted out by the England bowlers but may retain his place ahead of Virat Kohli.
India (possible) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Suresh Raina, 7 MS Dhoni (c) (wk), 8 Amit Mishra, 9 Praveen Kumar/RP Singh, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Sreesanth
Pitch and conditions
A typical Oval pitch is expected (not the crumbling-type surface produced for the 2009 Ashes) which should mean a chance for the batsmen to dominate, something only England's have done so far in this series. There is a chance of some rain on Thursday but the weather is due to clear up after that until a chance of showers later in the weekend.
Stats and trivia
- Sachin Tendulkar is in danger of enduring one of the worst series in his career. Currently, his average of 26.50 is his fourth lowest in series of three or more Tests.
- Even if England win this Test and take the series 4-0 they will lose their No. 1 ranking if South Africa win all their five Tests against Australia and Sri Lanka before Christmas
- Tim Bresnan is aiming to make it 10 Test victories from 10 matches played
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"We're desperate to finish the summer on a high. The work ethic over the last couple of days has been good and encouraging and I'd be very disappointed if we took our foot off the gas."
Andrew Strauss knows that it's hard work that has brought England this far, and will push his team to end the Test series on a triumphant note
"We will stick to our game plan and hopefully it'll reflect in our performance. This is a sport, we go through tough times. It's challenges that make life interesting."
MS Dhoni remains typically philosophical ahead of the final match of what has been a very challenging tour for India
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo