England vs India, 5th Test Preview: Battle of pride for India (Photo: Twitter)
Alastair Cook may have stolen the thunder by announcing his retirement after this Test, but take nothing away from the series ahead of the fifth and final Test. The hosts have may have taken an unassailable 3-1 lead, but in a series that has witnessed many close contests, this final Test at the Kennington Oval in London is unlikely to be anything but a dead rubber.
England will be happy to have the lead, considering how close they were stretched at Edgbaston (31 runs) and Southampton (60 runs). Looking back, England were a Sam Curran wicket away from collapse (24 & 63, 78 & 46) and a Virat Kohli special away (149 & 51, 46 & 58) from defeat in those matches!
In fact, such has been Curran’s influence in the series that the only match they lost (Trent Bridge) was when he was inexplicably benched. Only Jos Buttler (260 runs, avg. 37.14) aggregates more than the youngster (251 runs, avg. 50.20), having played a Test more.
The best batsman of the series comes from the Indian ranks (Kohli) as well as three of the top five bowlers (Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, and Jasprit Bumrah). However, their inability to seize key moments and ping England to the mat has meant that they have always been behind the eight-ball.
The success of their all-rounders or the retirement of Cook doesn’t give England the cushion of forgetting their batting meltdowns. England are nowhere close to finding a settled combination, which is a subliminal message for the selectors if they are willing to improve!
India could take the field with their fourth opening combination of the series – should they blood the youngster Prithvi Shaw – which is a reflection of their woes at the top. Runs in the last Test for Cheteshwar Pujara shouldn’t mask this fact.
Players to watch: After being plucked out of Test wilderness and being made the team’s lead spinner, Adil Rashid’s red ball journey has once again reached the crossroads. Will he get a chance to stake a claim for the upcoming Sri Lanka tour? Whereas for India - having shown better application at the crease in Southampton, Shikhar Dhawan has shown that a big innings from his blade is just around the corner.
Stat attack: England have not lost the last Test of a home series against India since 1971 – a run of two wins and eight draws. In 14 innings this year, Kohli has seven 50+ scores, while the retiring Alastair Cook has 999 runs at this venue in 12 Tests at an average of 45.40.
The history books doesn’t look all shiny for India as they have won just once in 12 visits to Oval (W1, D7, L4), way back in 1971 but Virat Kohli and co would definitely want to end the series on a high!