Lingering questions post India's innings defeat at Headingley: 4th Test Preview and Predictions
The high drama, roller-coaster series between India and England stands beautifully poised at one-all going into the 4th Test at the Oval, London.
Post the innings loss at Headingley, India have been left stranded with a bag of mixed outcomes to be processed and analysed before the short turnaround of the 4th Test. Despite the staggering defeat, mainly due to the disappointing 78-all out in the first innings, India did reap a few positives from the match apart from some much required reassessments.
Openers look confident
India's openers in KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma have looked the better of the lot in English conditions. Faced with the challenge of opening in England, Rahul’s hundred in the 2nd Test was a masterclass in leaving balls on or around off-stump.
Rohit Sharma’s solid defence has hugely impacted the first two Tests and the two will surely retain their place. Pataudi Series 2021 is the first away Test series where Rohit Sharma faced 400+ balls. He copped 583 deliveries till now in the ongoing Test series.
Also, Rohit Sharma overtakes his captain Virat Kohli in the ICC Men’s Test Player Rankings earlier today. Rohit Sharma climbs to No. 5 position and Virat Kohli slips to No. 6.
Middle-order concerns notwithstanding occasional flourishes
India’s middle order which has been the talk of the town, although in obvious bad form seem to be slowly improving along with the progression of the series. The Indian stalwarts – Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane have earned their name by consistently performing at the highest level for a number of years and remain quite unlikely to be dropped.
Moreover, Pujara and Virat will look to take confidence from their 91(189) and 55(125) respectively which helped India bat through the difficult situation of the last Test. Ajinkya Rahane's Lord's heroic (61) might save his place in the Playing XI but, he averages 19.00 in the series.
A shaky middle-order coupled with Rishabh Pant’s horrid run in the three Tests so far was one of the predominant reasons of the 78-run collapse. Rishabh has been averaging 17.40 in the current series and his attitude of running down the pitch first ball fails to instil much confidence into the batting line-up.
Pant will do well with a reminder from the team management of slowly building an innings along with developing a method to play good length deliveries. His current nemesis is an opportunity amidst crisis.
Read More: India-England Test Series 2021 – Outswingers proving to be nemesis of India’s middle-order
India’s unusual problem of batting inconsistently can be looked to be resolved by bringing in a specialist batsman at number 6 (likely Hanuma Vihari) although resulting in a significant drawback of playing with only 4 frontline bowlers and with Virat’s open hesitance to do the latter, India will likely look to balance the deficit by playing an additional bowling allrounder in either Ravichandran Ashwin or Shardul Thakur.
Virat Kohli clearly said after the Headingley test match that he has never believed in having a sixth specialist batter, and that having that batter would be no guarantee against such collapses. Hanuma Vihari in place of Ravindra Jadeja is only possible if knee injury that Ravindra Jadeja suffered at Headingley rules him out of the fourth Test.
However, in the recent release from BCCI, Prasidh Krishna has been added to India's squad for fourth test.
Bowlers' selection and the Ashwin puzzle
The unfortunate loss at Headingley resulted in India's pacers bowling only one innings during the last Test. Hence, the need to rest quicks remains slightly diluted with India likely to persist with the trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj.
Ishant Sharma is likely to be dropped in place of Ashwin or Shardul to help provide a better batting balance to the side. Both selections hold positives - Shardul provides the team with a swing bowling option which was a clear deficit in comparison to England seamers who got the ball to deviate significantly more during the Headingley Test while Ashwin might just be the answer to Joe Root's confident backfoot play.
Predicted XI - India: KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (WK), Ravindra Jadeja/Hamuna Vihari, Ravichandran Ashwin/Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj.
Are England’s batting woes resolved?
England seem to have temporarily found an answer to their lack of top-order runs. With their top 4 in Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed, Dawid Malan and Joe Root all scoring 50+ in the last innings, they will look to build on their recent performance.
England’s wicket-keeper Jos Buttler has left the team due to personal reasons and Jonny Bairstow will keep wickets in his absence. The number 5 spot will be filled by either Dan Lawrence or Ollie Pope.
Chris Woakes who has been declared fit will likely replace Sam Curran. Mark Wood might be brought in place of Craig Overton to provide the option of pace in the predominantly seamers' line-up.
Predicted XI - England: Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed, Dawid Malan, Joe Root (C), Jonny Bairstow (WK), Ollie Pope/ Dan Lawrence, Moeen Ali, Ollie Robinson, Chris Woakes/Sam Curran, Craig Overton/Mark Wood, James Anderson.
Weather Forecast – Chance of rain on fourth and fifth days
English skies play unfavourably to the crowd' emotions on most occasions. We might be in again for rain on day 4 and 5 with draw being a likely result in that case. With the series leveled and a humiliating loss in the last Test, India will look to come back strong and put in a solid performance irrespective of the weather conditions.
England on the other hand will look to continue their momentum and push forward with belief of being able to take the opposition down at home. The India-England 2021 series is tied at 1-1 with two Test matches to go. Fourth Test match of the Pataudi Series 2021 between India - England will be played at The Oval from September 2-6 at 03:30 PM IST.
Read More: India’s Pace Renaissance since January 2018 – Lowest average of 23.43 amongst all pace attacks