Can brittle India stop England?
December 13-17, Nagpur
Start time 9.30am (0400GMT)
The Big Picture
This could be a momentous Test match. From England's point of view, a win or a draw would secure a series victory in India for the first time since 1984-85. For a new captain, Alastair Cook, that would be a herculean achievement, especially given the various issues he has had to deal with in the early months of his leadership.
Then there is India. It would be foolish to write them off despite the margins of defeat in the last two matches, but there is a feeling of significant change being on the horizon. Although a series-levelling win could buy key figures some time, (despite papering over cracks being dangerous) it is not inconceivable that a series loss will see the end of MS Dhoni as captain, the end of Sachin Tendulkar and the end of Duncan Fletcher as coach. That 'perfect storm' scenario is unlikely, but even the fact it warrants discussion highlights India's predicament.
As has been the case ahead of each Test in this series, the pitch has been the focus of much attention although, sadly for comedic effect, there hasn't been the sight of a groundsman being in the middle of a row. What do India think is best? England have shown over the last two matches that they are comfortable on a variety of surfaces. It was the slowest, lowest, pitch of series, in Ahmedabad, that caused them most problems.
It's a sign of the problems England have had in 2012 that defeat in this Test would make it the most losses they have suffered in a calendar year. However, some big lessons have been learned and there is a sense that the team is back on track. Finishing with a series win in India would be substantial proof of that.
Form guide(Last five matches, most recent first)
Watch out for...
Test match No. 194 for Sachin Tendulkar. Could it be his last? Nobody knows what he is thinking about the future, but his powers are waning. There is a series against Australia next year, so maybe that will be time when he goes, but sooner rather than later the day will come for India. Does it need to be dragged out to a bitter end? This is not to say he can't score runs - he fought doggedly for his 76 in Kolkata - but this is not the Sachin Tendulkar who has entertained the world for more than two decades.
James Anderson produced one his finest overseas performances in Kolkata and even three wickets in each innings did not do justice to the skill he showed. He may well need a similar return in Nagpur and it is looking as though he'll have an even greater burden on his shoulders after the emergence of Steven Finn's injury. There is also the opportunity for one last duel with Tendulkar. The pair will not meet again at Test level.
There will be at least two changes for India after Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh were dropped, but such is the state of chaos around the team it is not clear which way they'll go. It might be back to three frontline spinners, meaning a recall for Piyush Chawla, and Ajinkya Rahane, who averages 63.35 in first-class cricket, could debut at No. 6. The other options include Ravindra Jadeja as an allrounder at No. 6 with a balanced attack. Ashok Dinda and Parvinder Awana were both playing Ranji Trophy until yesterday so have not had much time with the squad.
India (possible) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Virat Kohli, 6 Ajinkya Rahane, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Piyush Chawla, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Pragyan Ojha
England have been hit by a significant blow with Finn suffering a back injury, which makes him very doubtful. Stuart Broad is ruled out, so Tim Bresnan appears favourite to replace him, despite a poor year in Test cricket, although Graham Onions would also have a strong case. There are suggestions that Samit Patel's spot at No. 6 could go to Jonny Bairstow. Patel has not looked out of his depth, despite not converting starts into a substantial score, and it would be a harsh omission.
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Nick Compton, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Samit Patel, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar
Pitch and conditions
"White and dry," was the basic description of the pitch on the eve of the Test. It had not been watered for two days so it will spin, the question is how much and how soon. The weather won't be an issue with daytime temperatures in the low 30s.
Stats and trivia
- If Alastair Cook has another successful Test he could rise to the No. 1 batsman in Test cricket. England have not had the top-ranked batsman since Michael Vaughan in 2003.
- Only three England batsmen have scored four hundreds in a series - Herbert Sutcliffe (twice), Wally Hammond and Denis Compton
- Jason Krejza, the Australia offspinner, made his memorable (for right and wrong reasons) debut on this ground in 2008 ending with match figures of 12 for 358. Two years later, Dale Steyn took 7 for 51 after finding considerable reverse swing.
"We have kept it really close, and the good thing is we are enjoying cricket, which at times you don't tend to do when you go through a rough patch. When it comes to dressing-room atmosphere, it's looking great."
MS Dhoni insists everything is fine off the field
"Everyone knows how important this game is, but as a player you've got to take that emotion out of it. We've got to continue on the same path. We know how hard we've worked over these last couple of games, and we've got to do it again."
Alastair Cook does what he does best. Keeps it simple
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo