England vs India. Can India win the series?
On the back of an astounding 203-run victory in the third test, captain fantastic Virat Kohli beamed with confidence that India can indeed be the second team in the history of test cricket to win a 5-match series 3-2 after coming back from 2-0 down. That prompts the question: Can India really do it?
A look at the venues for the fourth and the fifth test would be an interesting place to start answering that question.
Fourth Test: Aug 30 - Sep 03
Venue: Rose Bowl, Southampton
The venue has hosted two tests until date, the last test being held at the venue in 2014 where India was handed a thrashing by England, beating India by 263 runs. Gary Ballance and Ian Bell scored centuries in the first innings, while the Indian batsmen could only score three half-centuries in both the innings combined with James Anderson romping to yet another 5-wicket haul in the first innings. It was a case of contrasting debuts to the two teams, England's débutante Jos Buttler smashing a quick-fire 85 lower down the order in the first innings while India's débutante pacer Pankaj Singh having no wickets to show for his 47 overs of toil. Buttler also took six catches behind the stumps, making it a memorable debut overall for the Somerset man.
It has traditionally favored the fast-bowlers with King James picking a five-wicket haul against India and Tremlett picking up a 6-fer against Sri Lanka in 2011, the first test at this venue. The test against Sri Lanka was a damp affair, with the majority of the match being washed out.
India has the distinction of the lowest total in the seven test innings played at this venue, being all out for 178 in the second innings of the 2014 test, where Moeen Ali bagged 6 wickets in that innings.
One thing to notice is the short square boundaries, making the cross-batted shots an option in this ground. But with assistance to bowlers and with King James on song, it would not be as easy as being suggested.
Regarding the team combinations, India might have a change, if Ashwin doesn't recover from his hip injury on time. That would make Kohli having played 39 different teams in his 39 tests as captain of Team India! It would really be a surprise if Kohli tampers any further with the rest of the team. Rahul has made the opening slot his with his bucket-like hands at slip, becoming the most bankable slip-fielder (in both the sides!) and Dhawan providing the initial burst India needs at the top of the order. Also, the left-right combination augurs well for the team.
England also would have selection headaches, with Sam Curran possibly coming in for the injured Bairstow. Would Ollie Pope and Keaton Jennings be retained in the playing XI is another selection choice that would be interesting to see.
The weather is predicted to be cloudy throughout the match, even though there are no predicted for rains (at least not persistent rains that would play spoilsport!) over the course of the match.
FifthTest: Sep 7- Sep 11
Venue: Kennington Oval, London
The last time India played at this venue was in Aug 2014 and they lost the test within three days, by an innings and 244 runs and were all out for 94 in the second innings with Chris Jordan picking 4 second-innings wickets in his first 5 overs. In the test played in 2011, India lost the match by an innings and 8-runs.
Enough said. India essentially does not have a good track record at this ground.
But neither does England!
In the last five tests played at this venue, England has lost by an innings and 46 runs to Australia, by ten wickets to Pakistan and drawn a test against Australia, while winning (albeit by huge margins) against India and South Africa.
So, even though it is not exactly a fortress for the English team, it has been a rather unsuccessful ground for the Indians ( Final, Champions Trophy 2017 :| )
Expect a fair amount of grass, as the pitch here is completely dependent on the curator and what the English team's request would be.
Even though it is rather a tad early (and frankly, immature) to discuss the probable XI for the teams, the core of the teams are largely expected to be the same, with Che Pu and Bumrah firmly expected to play for the remaining tests.
For England, it remains to be seen if they would continue to Ollie Pope and Keaton Jennings and if Bairstow would be fit by then.
The weather is predicted to be largely clear during the course of the match even though there are partly cloudy second and fourth days, making it a wise choice to bat first (at least according to the weather predictions!)
So, going by the facts above, if India has to win the series, it has the best schedule possible. Rosebowl presents the best opportunity for the Indian team to take their momentum forward and if it, in fact, does win the series and becomes only the second team in the history of test cricket to do so, of all the things, Captain courageous Virat is, he might also be an astute soothsayer too!