India and England head into the third Test at The Oval with plenty at stake: India are a draw away from winning their first series here since 1986, while England face the prospect of their first series loss at home since the Ashes drubbing in 2001. If India avoid a defeat, they will also reverse their trend of squandering away the advantage in a series, as they did in Zimbabwein 2001, in the West Indiesin 2002, in Australiain 2003, in Pakistanin 2004, and in South Africa in 2006.
The series has so far has witnessed an even contest between bat and ball, with the bowlers from both teams having plenty of success. The average runs per wickets for this series is 30.13, far lower than the 36.69 in Tests in England since 2002. At The Oval, though, the bowlers could have a tougher time: in Tests since 2000, the runs per wicket here is a healthy 38.86.
England have not lost a match at The Oval since 2002, having won three and drawn two, including the 2002 Test against India. India only need a draw to clinch the series, and if the past record between the two teams is anything to go by, that's the most likely result this time - the last four Tests between the two teams here have all ended in stalemates.
The last time a Test at this venue between these two sides ended decisively was way back in 1971, when India - propelled by Bhagwat Chandrasekhar's 6 for 38 - not only earned their first Test win on English soil but also their first series triumph in England.
Among the England batsmen playing in this series, Michael Vaughan is the highest run-getter at The Oval. Vaughan has been enjoying a purple patch this season, having averaged more than 60 in the current series and the previous one against West Indies. This is Vaughan's best run since the 2002-03 Ashes (Click here for Vaughan's series-by-series record). Add his record at this venue, and against India - he tops the averages in England-India Tests for batsmen who have played at least ten innings - and it'll be a huge surprise if he isn't among the runs over the next five days. Kevin Pietersen has been prolific in this series, and he has enjoyed The Oval pitch too, scoring a century and a 96 in four innings.
England's problem, though, has been the form of some of the other batsmen. Andrew Strauss has only managed four fifties in 21 innings since the 2006 Ashes series began, while Ian Bell hasn't done much better, averaging less than 33 in his last 11 Tests. Bell won't have pleasant memories of The Oval either - in three Tests he has only scored 88 runs, and bagged a pair in the Ashes Test in 2005.
Although Rahul Dravid will be pleased with the victory at Trent Bridge, he'll be concerned about his own batting form. His average in the ongoing series is 19.66, his worst since the Border-Gavaskar series in 1999-2000 (excluding one-off Tests). Dravid was among the runs during the practice game against Sri Lanka A, but more significantly, he scored 217 in his only innings at The Oval in 2002.
The toss hasn't played a significant role at The Oval, with the team winning it going on to win 30 Tests and lose 24. The side batting first is marginally better off, having won 31 times, which partially explains the fact that the captain winning the toss has chosen to bat 78 times in 89 games. Since 2000, the team batting first has only lost once in seven matches.
The fast bowlers have fared better than spinners of late at The Oval, but that's only a relative statement. In truth the batsmen have dominated most of the time, irrespective of the kind of attack they've been up against. The best match figures at the ground belong to Muttiah Muralitharan; his 16 for 221 came in Sri Lanka's one-off Test against England in 1998. Also, the most successful opposition bowler is Shane Warne, who picked up 32 wickets in four Tests at The Oval, with 23 of those coming in the two matches held after 2000.
England's best bowler at The Oval in recent years has been Steve Harmison, whose 18 wickets in four Tests have come at 24.38 runs apiece. The extra bounce on offer here has been ideal for Harmison; if Chris Tremlett, a bowler who Harmison says can exploit the conditions like he used to - or any of the other England bowlers - turns in a match-winning performance, this will be the third successive England-India series to end on a 1-1 scoreline.