NASSER HUSSAIN: Mark Wood’s pace and swing can rattle India, England will tell themselves the tourists’ batting remains fragile… and Joe Root’s side have this habit of bouncing back!
- There’s nothing to say that England can’t make it 2-2 against India in Manchester
- Joe Root’s team have shown character after a bad defeat like the one at the Oval
- They just have to get the basics right, and be more ruthless when batting
- England must get selections right, so Mark Wood must replace Craig Overton
This series has shown there is no such thing as momentum. England put in the perfect performance at Headingley, and India responded with the perfect performance at the Oval.
What we do know is that, historically, Joe Root’s team have shown character after a bad defeat — and they will need all the character they can muster if they are to square the series at Old Trafford.
It won’t be easy, but there’s nothing to say that England, who looked a stronger side in the last game for the return of Chris Woakes, can’t make it 2-2. Given the injuries they’ve suffered to their bowling attack, that would be a good achievement.
Mark Wood (above) should replace Craig Overton, because of the pace and reverse swing he can offer
They just have to get the basics right, which they failed to do at the Oval. They need to hold their catches, but bear in mind they might have yet another rejigged slip cordon, if they go in without Craig Overton and Jonny Bairstow.
They need to be more ruthless with the bat. And they need someone other than Root to make a big score. So far, he’s their only centurion of the series, and he’s scored more than three times as many runs as any team-mate. That can’t go on.
England have bowled pretty well, but on three occasions they have allowed India’s tail to score vital runs: at Lord’s and twice at the Oval. In both games, they had India where they wanted them but couldn’t finish them off.
Part of the issue is ball management, which India did much better in the last match — even though it’s something England have traditionally done well. Reverse swing could come into play in Manchester, so keeping one side of the ball dry will be crucial.
England looked a stronger side in the last game for the return of Chris Woakes (right)
England must also get their selections right. In the last game, they picked a team for the first innings. Four seamers looked good on the first morning, not so much on the fourth afternoon. They need to pick a team to flourish across all five days.
I wouldn’t be too critical of Moeen Ali just because he went at four-and-a-half an over. Root has said that England could have done with more red-ball cricket in the build-up to this series, and that applies to a spinner as much as it does to the batsmen.
For me, Mark Wood replaces Overton, because of the pace and reverse swing he can offer. And if England pick Jack Leach and go with two spinners, they need to have an honest conversation with Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson. How fit are they after busting a gut at the Oval? Can they get through another punishing Test?
It looks as if they’ll need to decide between Bairstow and Ollie Pope for the last batting spot, and I’d give it to Pope, who made 81 last week and feels more like the future than Bairstow.
I wouldn’t be too critical of Moeen Ali (right) just because he went at four-and-a-half an over
I know that would be harsh on Bairstow, again, but you’ve got to consider the upside of each player. And Pope, at 23, has more upside than Bairstow, 31.
As for India, if they could have chosen two surfaces in England on which to end the series, it would have been the Oval and Old Trafford: good wickets, with something for the spinners.
For that reason, there’s a chance Ravichandran Ashwin will get his first game of the series, although Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri are their own men, and their 4-1 seamer-spinner balance has worked well so far.
But while Ravindra Jadeja bowled well out of the rough on the last day of the fourth Test, Ashwin can also get bounce. And bounce has often been a feature of Old Trafford wickets.
I’d give the last batting spot to Ollie Pope (R) because he feels more like the future than Jonny Bairstow (L)
What might count against Ashwin is that he hasn’t had much chance to get rhythm. Since he appeared in the World Test Championship final against New Zealand in June, his only go with the red ball was in a four-day game for Surrey two months ago.
England will also tell themselves India’s batting remains fragile, with Ajinkya Rahane struggling.
If India do complete a series win, it would be a heck of an achievement after they won in Australia earlier in the year — especially with Covid, bubble life and the rejigged IPL.
But Kohli will also be wary that England have this habit of bouncing back, especially at home. It could yet be a thrilling end to a memorable summer.
There’s a chance Ravichandran Ashwin will get his first game of the series for India
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