India hope for final twist
August 15-19, 2014
Start time 1100 (1000 GMT)
Rarely has a Test series flipped so abruptly. After the second Test at Lord's, India were hailed as a more resilient version, finally capable under the enlightened leadership of MS Dhoni of competing over five days outside Asia. As for England, Alastair Cook's captaincy was vociferously condemned and a new leadership group, from the coach, Peter Moores, to the national selector, James Whitaker, were desperately seeking any form of consolation.
Two Tests later and the final stage in this Investec Test series has taken on an entirely different complexion. India's team selection has been strange, resilient is the last word that would be used to describe their pitiful batting display in the second innings at Old Trafford and it is Dhoni's wicketkeeping and tactics that are now under scrutiny with his side 2-1 down with one to play.
As for Cook, respect for the way he stuck things out at the Ageas Bowl when the going was tough has blossomed into a general acceptance that his inner steel makes him England's obvious leader in Test cricket for years to come. How could we ever have thought any differently?
Devotees of momentum can only conclude that the series is as good as over. But The Oval is not a bad place for India to make their last stand. The pitch will lack the pace of Old Trafford and England's new-ball bowlers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, have already shouldered a heavy burden. India's campaign against Anderson, though, has given them extra determination to see it through.
Players to watch
Initial descriptions of Stuart Broad's protective covering after his nose was broken by a Varun Aaron bouncer at Old Trafford made it sound as if he would be wearing some kind of fearsome Promethean face mask. Sadly, that is not quite the case, although he will wear a nose splint to disguise the temporary damage to his boy-band countenance and after coming through a net session in good order he will be in the mood for some heavy chords.
India's thoughts will centre once more on Virat Kohli. For such a feted player to fail so abysmally has been the turn-up of the series. This should have been the series in which he proved his class. Instead, Anderson has unpicked him with ease and he has still to pass 50 in eight attempts. He has one final chance to respond.
A fast, bouncy pitch in south London might have been enough to win Steven Finn a Test recall, but those days have long gone and expectations are that England will retain the side that won so impressively inside three days at Old Trafford. Finn joined up with England after taking four wickets for the Lions against Sri Lanka A, but they were expensive wickets and his display was not quite as impressive as some reports made out.
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Sam Robson, 3 Gary Ballance, 4 Ian Bell, 5 Joe Root, 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Jos Buttler, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Chris Jordan, 10 Stuart Broad, 11 James Anderson.
After being ruled out of the last two Tests with a leg injury, Ishant Sharma, hero of their victory in the second Test at Lord's, could return in place of Pankaj Singh, whose popularity has been in inverse proportion to his wickets. Gautam Gambhir looks set to keep the opening slot. Stuart Binny cannot be entirely discounted as a possible replacement for Ravindra Jadeja.
India (probable) 1 Murali Vijay, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja/Stuart Binny, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Varun Aaron, 11 Ishant Sharma.
Pitch and conditions
England's hot spell has departed, temporarily at least, and temperatures are expected to hover around 20C throughout the Test. There could be a shower or two on Friday, but generally the outlook is cool, dry and at times breezy. Half of the pitches at The Oval have been dug up to encourage more pace, but the Test pitch remains on the old part of the square and should be a blessing for India after their inability to handle the pace and bounce of Old Trafford.
Stats and trivia
- Anderson needs eight wickets to overtake Ian Botham's England record of 383 Test victims. He already has 21 wickets in the series.
- Kohli's run of eight innings without a fifty since his unbeaten hundred against New Zealand in Wellington is the worst run in his 28-Test career.
- Stuart Boad tweeted pictures of the super villain Bane as options for a face mask he could wear to protect his broken nose. Bane is known as "The Man Who Broke The Bat", which would seem appropriate, except that refers to Batman, not cricket bats, and anyway Bane took so many illegal substances to achieve his strength that Broad would only fail a drugs test.
"We saw last week the guts and determination Jimmy showed when he was not well. That was extraordinary and that tells everyone what a bloke he is. And to back that up with his talent and skill means he is a very, very talented cricketer."
Alastair Cook ladles on the praise for James Anderson
"It's never that the result is more important than the process. It is always the process that will be the key because it puts less pressure on the team. It is an important Test match but at the same time still it is the breaking up of the sessions that matters because that will give us an advantage. So we will still be looking more into the process than the result."
MS Dhoni won't be changing his approach with India 2-1 down
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo