LONDON: Shaken by abject surrender in the first two Tests, a desperate India are expected to ring in a slew of changes as they aim at redemption against a rampaging England in a do-or-die third Test, starting tomorrow.
For Indian team, the Trent Bridge Test will be their last chance to save the series after being outplayed in the first two Test matches — by 31 runs Edgbaston and innings and 159 runs at the Lord’s.
Down 0-2 with only five and half days of competitive cricket in all, skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri will be aiming to get the team combination right having bungled at the Lord’s.
As a result, India will play their 38th combination in as many matches that skipper Kohli had led.
Pant’s imminent debut
The most awaited change will be 20-year-old Rishabh Pant’s imminent Test debut replacing a horribly out-of-form Dinesh Karthik, who might well have played his last international game in the longest format.
With scores of 0, 20, 1 & 0 in four innings coupled with shoddy glovework meant that Karthik was seen giving catching practice to Pant, who also spend considerable time batting at the nets.
Being hailed as Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s successor, Pant’s entry into the squad happened after three half-centuries in the two first-class matches against England Lions.
Despite a triple hundred and a healthy first-class average of 54 plus, it will still be baptism by fire for the Roorkee-born youngster. He will be facing Messrs Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran, ready to make life miserable for him just like they have done with his illustrious seniors.
If Pant’s Test debut has generated a lot of interest, there is a prayer on every fan’s lips that skipper Kohli gets fit enough to wield the willow.
India picking up pieces
It is the impact of the last defeat in swing-friendly conditions across just over six sessions that is still hurting the Indian camp. Throughout the week, they have been left picking up the pieces, mostly in terms of re-evaluating fitness of their key players.
In that aspect at least, there is some good news. Jasprit Bumrah is fit again; Ravichandran Ashwin and Hardik Pandya have recovered completely from their hand injuries suffered while batting at Lords, and skipper Kohli has more or less recovered from his back problems.
Never has an injury invoked so much interest since Sachin Tendulkar’s tennis elbow. Kohli’s condition seemed to have improved a lot and as he had maintained, he will be out there at the toss alongside Joe Root.
This is where the hard part begins for India. Having admitted their mistake in picking two spinners at Lord’s, it is about time skipper Kohli and coach Shastri hit upon the optimal team combination.
Nevertheless, there are bound to be changes in the playing eleven for some vital members of the squad are now seemingly bereft of confidence.
Murali Vijay, for example, has scored only 128 runs in 10 overseas Test innings against South Africa and England. An average of 12.8 is tough to ignore, but for a batsman of his calibre, the team management could still afford another chance given that India need to win this game.
At the same time however, it brings Shikhar Dhawan back into contention. He averages 17.75 against South Africa and England in two Tests this year, and his overall average in England is 20.12 (four Tests). In these two instances, he has scored at a strike-rate of 68.93 and 57.29, respectively, which could once again go in his favour.
Thus, there is every chance that India could opt for their third different opening pairing — of Dhawan and KL Rahul — in as many Tests, the middle order will be untouched. Especially with Kohli regaining fitness, Karun Nair still isn’t seen to be active during practice sessions. It was the case in Birmingham and London, as well as in Nottingham, and playing an extra specialist batsman is not in the management’s immediate plans as yet.
Best possible combination
If it so transpires, Umesh Yadav will once again be unlucky to miss out, for the team management will be eager to get their best possible combination out on the field.
The pitch at Trent Bridge bore a different look than 2014, when these two teams met here. India scored 457 and 391/9 decl in two innings on a flat surface, as England had scored 496 whilst batting once and the match petered out to a draw.
The forecast for this third Test is of decent cloud cover through the first four days, and if the Indian team takes into consideration, they would surely opt for just the lone spinner.
Meanwhile, England have a big selection headache on their hands. Ben Stokes’ re-assimilation in the squad has gone off smoothly, and after spending the past week away, he went through rigorous batting and bowling sessions on Thursday.
He got a decent reception from a sizeable fan gathering ahead of the game, but how the crowd reacts to his presence in the game on Saturday could be a worry for the team management