In a rare Test match that has lasted less than two days, India have crushed England at Motera to gain a 2-1 lead in the ongoing Test series. The action will continue on Thursday as India look to seal their spot in the World Test Championship Final with a win or at least a draw. England will hope to regroup after their back-to-back losses on spin-friendly tracks, and level the series 2-2. A turnaround by England is unlikely, but the recent history of Test matches proves that anything is possible in the longest format of the game.
Here’s our preview of the fourth and final Test between India and England:
INDIA’S SPIN DOMINANCE
Indian fans have alternated in recent months between being disappointed at the team’s spectacular capitulations before cheering for the team as they make remarkable comebacks. What is more exciting for India is that these comebacks have been driven by team effort, not dependent on any particular individual or department alone.
Rohit Sharma has been the lead batsman for India in this series – the ‘hitman’ has contributed 66 runs of the 145 total that India have scored in the first innings of the third Test. Shubman Gill has failed to produce any big knocks, but in low-scoring games, that is to be expected. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli are ever present in the middle order to stabilise the innings, and the dynamic Rishabh Pant has come of age as an effective wicketkeeper.
It is the spinners however, who delivered much of the goods for India on spin-friendly tracks. Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel collectively took 18 of England’s 20 wickets in the third Test. So complete was their dominance of the track that India’s lead bowler, Jasprit Bumrah, did not bowl a single over in the second innings.
India’s team looks more settled, and their squad depth gives them many options to choose from if the need arises. Jasprit Bumrah will miss the fourth Test due to personal reasons and India have not requested any new additions to the squad. Mohammed Siraj or Umesh Yadav look like the lead contenders to fill up his spot, as Ishant Sharma is a guaranteed inclusion.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR ENGLAND?
England arrived in India with much hope, after their recent exploits in Sri Lanka, they looked ready to master completely the subcontinental tracks. Their victory in the first Test after skipper Joe Root’s sublime performance gave credence to their newly-found hope, and the English dressing room was full of optimism.
Things started going haywire soon after as India delivered back-to-back team performances on their familiar spin-friendly tracks. That the tracks did not suit the visitors was evident, home track advantage is a well-established practice in cricket. England were, however, undone by their own actions.
The batting line-up was excessively reliant on skipper Joe Root, and the absence of any support to the fab four batsman was visible throughout the series. The frequent changes at the top of the order, the absence of Jos Buttler, and the failure of Ben Stokes to click into form all led to a batting collapse in the third Test.
England have two of the greatest fast bowlers in Test cricket, and we saw for the first time in years the duo of Stuart Broad and James Anderson play together. But on India’s spin-friendly pitches, and the pace duo had no chance to make their mark. It was Jack Leach, and skipper Joe Root with a 5-fer that took India out in the first innings. Moeen Ali has been sidelined in recent years, and the veteran’s absence is being felt when England need experienced spinners the most.
Many questions have to be addressed within the English dressing room, and the rotation policy might have to be reconsidered, especially against a strong team like India. A spinner might come in for Stuart Broad, if the pitch turns out to be similar to the one in the third Test. There are unlikely to be any other significant changes to the playing XI.
THE PITCH FACTOR
Much debate has happened over the quality of the pitches in this series. After a decent turning pitch at Chepauk, the overwhelmingly spin-friendly pitches in the second and third Tests have attracted a lot of criticism, especially from veteran cricketers as they argue that the pitches are unsuitable for the longest-format of the game. That the pitches tipped the scales overwhelmingly in favour of the hosts who are accustomed to turning tracks is beyond doubt.
As Ravichandran Ashwin put it after the third Test – “who decides if a pitch is good?” is a sound argument to counter any criticism, especially as the Indians have never complained about pitches while touring abroad. The pitch for the fourth Test is unlikely to be similar to the previous one as India look to deliver a traditional Test track to avoid any ICC sanctions for the newly renovated stadium.
WILL INDIA HEAD TO LONDON?
India have almost sealed their World Test Championship final spot – they need just a draw to qualify for the final to be hosted in London in June. England have been eliminated already, and only a surprise comeback by England in the final Test will kick India out of the final. New Zealand have qualified already – Kane Williamson’s men are in sublime form and will be a tough opposition to face.
India have shown why they are the best Test team in the past couple of months. A complete team performance from the Indians is producing some of the finest Test cricket in recent years, and the fourth Test is unlikely to go any other way. Expect India to dominate the game and end the series on a high note.
Pitch Report: The hosts are likely to produce a batting friendly pitch after delivering two back to back spin-friendly surfaces to the visitors. Expect a lot of runs for the first time in the series from India.
India Predicted XI: Shubman Gill, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (WK), Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Washington Sundar, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj.
England Predicted XI: Dominic Sibley, Rory Burns, Joe Root (C), Ben Stokes, Daniel Lawrence, Ben Foakes (WK), Ollie Pope, Dom Bess, Jack Leach, Jofra Archer, James Anderson.
When: March 4 – 8, 2021 (Thursday to Monday) 09:30 AM IST
Where: Narendra Modi Stadium, Motera.
Where to Watch: All matches of the series will be telecast live on Star Sports Network and Disney+ Hotstar.
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