Investec Test Series: India look to take an unassailable lead
Here's a preview of the third Investec Test between England and India:
The Ageas Bowl at Southampton is set to host its second Test ever when the hassled England take on a buoyant Indian side in the 3rd Test on Sunday.
India won the second Test at Lord's on a pitch tailormade for the hosts after drawing the first Test played on a flat track at Trent Bridge. The win was built on stellar contributions from Ajinkya Rahane, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Murali Vijay, Ravindra Jadeja and on the final day, Ishant Sharma guided by MS Dhoni. England suffered due to their bowlers wasting the conditions, poor keeping from Matt Prior, lack of contributions from the senior batsmen and a brainfade on the final day which saw them collapse to defeat from a point where they could have easily saved the match if not won it.
England have rung in a change after Prior opted out of the rest of the series, bringing in the attacking and in-form Jos Buttler while India's preparation indicates Rohit Sharma will replace Stuart Binny in the line-up.
Alastair Cook is under tremendous pressure to justify his position as skipper and batsman and he will want to pile on the kind of scores that drove England to so many victories when he first took on the captaincy. He will look to support from Ian Bell, another senior batsman who has been underwhelming in this series. Sam Robson had a poor Test but will want to bounce back and show the kind of consistency that Gary Ballance and Joe Root have while Moeen Ali will want to build on his starts and not throw his innings away.
Stuart Broad is widely expected to be rested with Chris Jordan replacing him. Jordan is brisker with his pace and in good form and will be a challenge for India's batsmen if he finds the right length on a track leaning more towards the Lord's one than the Trent Bridge one; an English pitch with good bounce and carry to help bowlers capitalize on any movement they can find.
James Anderson was guilty of not applying enough pressure on Day 1 at Lord's when he had India in a difficult position and of losing control on Day 4 when his short and wide bowling proved fodder for Jadeja's innings which seized the day for India. He will want to make amends and the conditions at Southampton should be enough for the skill and fitness he possesses.
Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma too will want runs to their name. All except Sharma who is yet to play a game have made starts but been unable to turn them into substantial scores, Dhawan, Kohli and Dhoni being the ones who have to make up the most. Dhawan has repeatedly been prone to poking outside off, Kohli has received some amazing deliveries but should be able to keep those out as one of the top batsmen in the world, Pujara has lost his wickets in short lapses in concentration, Dhoni's technique is as it has always been - mostly unsuitable while Sharma has to prove his worth after being left out for Binny and watching Rahane seal his spot with fighting knocks including a priceless ton at Lord's.
The nature of the pitch should ease them with conditions being more batting friendly than at Lord's where everyone got a start. It's not as flat as Trent Bridge so it will still take effort from the batsmen and they will be expected to fight through and survive before dominating.
The move to bring in Rohit ahead of R Ashwin can be seen as a defensive one with Dhoni ready to play out a stalemate and hold on to the lead because of the threat Ashwin poses to English line up with the amount of lefties in it. Jadeja however hasn't been very effective thanks to the lack of support from the pitches and that is why bringing in Ashwin could be a risk. Sharma would take the pressure off Kohli and Pujara at the top though, allowing them to play more freely and find touch. Bhuvneshwar and Ishant were superbly disciplined at Lord's and so was Mohammed Shami to an extent but it might be his last chance to show that he can build the pressure with wickets and sustain the pressure as a part of the attack.
Vijay and Rahane will look to play on and get more runs with their differing styles. Vijay especially has shown the biggest progress, showing he can play in these conditions and will want to prove he can go on for 5 whole Tests and is a long term prospect as opener.
MS Dhoni's taking charge on the final afternoon at Lord's found India the gap they needed to get past England and shut them out and if he does this more often, attacking relentlessly and setting up dismissals, India will have to spend lesser time fielding and he would get more time to plot the game.
India have a chance to either take an unassailable 2-0 lead, draw and retain their 1-0 advantage or take a breather and let England square the series 1-1 with 2 more Tests left. Here's hoping they build on last Monday's win and make it 2-0.