Chennai over, one apiece. After India’s 317 run win in the second test it is an easy comment to say the momentum has shifted. An England camp in disarray, the poor handling of Moeen Ali’s return home and a misfiring top order all point to India tightening their grip on the Anthony de Mello trophy.
In Ahmedabad, however, England has cause for quiet confidence. The Sardar Patel Stadium, the world’s largest cricket venue, will witness a 50% capacity crowd, a paltry 55,000. Like any Indian stadium it will be an intimidating atmosphere but the home team’s record in Gujarat is not fortress others are.
Twelve test matches played, India have won four, drawn six and lost two. A 33.33% win rate is their third lowest outside Kolkata and Kampur. How they’ve lost may surprise you. In their debut test at the stadium in 1983 West Indies were their opponents, beating the home side by 138 runs. All twenty wickets came from their illustrious pace attack. As good as their bowlers are, England would do extremely well to repeat that.
Twenty-five years later, a similar story, nineteen wickets falling to a South African attack of Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini, Morne Morkel and Jacques Kallis. An opening innings collapse of 76 sealed India’s fate that day, despite the side featuring Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, Dhoni and captained by Kumble.
For England to win, this represents the first dilemma. In Archer, Anderson and Broad, England have a pace attack which, in the right conditions is up there with the very best. These aren’t those conditions, though the day-night pink ball may help their cause.
The West Indies attack of Holding and Marshall needs no introduction, with Wayne Daniel enjoying his best day as a test cricketer. In Steyn, Morkel and Ntini, South Africa had three bowlers who were clocked at 96, 92.5 and 97 mph respectively. Archer, Wood and Stone are there or there abouts and Broad can approach that, though looks destined to be rested again.
Stone’s performance in the last test showed promise though England have shown a preference towards rotation. With Anderson due to play England’s pace attack will be dictated by their decisions on spinners. Bess and Leach both could play, though the more attacking choice would be just one gets the call. Interestingly in both of India’s defeats their opponents selected a single spinner.
England’s strong strength in depth allows that aggressive opportunity, with concerns about the pacemen’s potential workload aided by three strike options likely to sit out.
Jofra Archer, if fully recovered, should play and provide that zip factor and the decision on who joins him would reduce to two. Chris Woakes provides dependability but in Mark Wood, this seems a match tailor-made to test his progress.
The prospect of a long slog bowling is there but if England really see Wood as a genuine answer in Australia, what he can do in a potentially agreeable Ahmedabad will provide a key marker. If he isn’t selected you do start to question what his role in the squad is, other than as a back-up should the front four get injured.
Anderson, Archer, Wood, Leach or Bess, assisted by Stokes is a line-up capable of taking twenty wickets though whether they will be granted that opportunity will stem from how the batting line up performs. Whilst runs were leaked, England did bowl India out twice in Chennai. Their bowling figures so dour only when considered in the absence of the freedom with which India’s batsmen were able to play, especially in the second innings and already far ahead.
|Batsmen||Last 10 Test Innings Average (or less if limited caps)|
|Jonny Bairstow||22.7 (46.33 since return)|
|Ben Foakes||33.14 (44.00 since return)|
In this respect England must improve. Changes are inevitable with the top three all up for grabs. Rory Burns faces the threat of a fit-again Zak Crawley, with the latter likely to return despite his struggles in Sri Lanka. If Crawley opens Burns will make way though if he returns at three it will likely mean Jonny Bairstow will watch on from the stands. Dom Sibley showed enough in the first test 87 to protect his place for now.
In spite of his early promise in Sri Lanka Dan Lawrence looks set to miss out and will be replaced by one of Crawley or Bairstow. Retaining his place looks unlikely in a squad full of competition.
Rumours have abounded of Bairstow replacing Foakes but I can’t see it, there being enough trouble at the top of the order to give Bairstow a likely slot at three and if he doesn’t Foakes has done enough not to get dropped.
Root, Stokes and Pope are inevitable though the last will need to improve to cement his long-term spot, should Bairstow return to form.
England have been here before and they have bounced back. It is within their power. The toss is important but even more crucial is how they react in light of it. In Chennai, their heads sunk, aided by a media keen to lambast the state of the pitch. It wasn’t good enough, but neither was England’s batting. In that respect there is enough to suggest that things will improve. If they do England’s bowlers are more than capable but expect a test that could go right until the fifth night.