India look to salvage pride

Virat Kohli, who has had a good series with the bat, will be again under pressure as captain when India take on England in the fifth and final Test at the Oval from Friday. AP/ PTI

The overall quality of cricket offered by India and England in this series has not been of the highest grade but the majority of the battles has been compelling. Expect the final chapter of the 2018 Pataudi Trophy to be another scrappy affair despite the match being rendered inconsequential.

India, smarting from having let go of a great opportunity to win an away series that was well within their reach, will be seeking some consolation with pilloried players hoping for salvation. On the other hand, England, who have somehow managed to hold things together despite having an unbalanced line-up, will be keen to give their much-loved former skipper Alastair Cook a glorious farewell.

Forced to eat humble pie after making boastful claims even before they arrived here, the pressure is immense on India to stop the scoreline from turning into an extremely embarrassing 1-4. Criticism is already mounting back home and it would reach a crescendo if they lose at the Oval which has not been kind to them this decade. Several questions have been asked on what exactly Ravi Shastri is doing as the head coach and those could gather further wings if defeat occurs at Oval.

The primary focus will be on the batsmen. Only skipper Virat Kohli has been consistent while Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have shone sporadically. The first ones who would be keen to right plenty of wrongs are KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan. The two have been nothing but shambolic this series, their failures to lay a decent platform having a ripple effect down the batting order.

Rahul has been found out with the in-swingers while England have often lured Dhawan into his doom with the pitched-up out-swingers. And shockingly both openers seem to have not learnt from their mistakes, repeatedly getting out in the same fashion. Another failure could really spell doom to Dhawan’s away career following his consistently poor shows in countries outside the sub-continent. Rahul, just 26, will get the longer rope but he knows he needs to arrest this alarming slide in form.

By the looks of it, Shastri and Kohli could break convention and play an extra batsman and pin their hopes on a four-man bowling attack. The toss-up in that case would be between Hanuma Vihari and Karun Nair although the former looks the favourite judging by the activities in nets. Andhra player Vihari, who also bowls gentle off-spin, batted for a considerable amount of time on Wednesday and Thursday while Nair got throw-downs only in the end. If Vihari plays it would be extremely unfair on Nair who has been with the team since the start of the tour but has been reduced to just carrying drinks and giving throw-downs at nets.

R Ashwin was also not very active in the nets on match eve which means left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja will play his first game of the tour. Teenage Mumbai opener Prithvi Shaw is also a candidate for selection but it’s highly unlikely the management may make wholesale changes considering the delicate position they are in.

England, meanwhile, are looking to rub salt into India’s wounds. They lost 4-0 when they came to India in 2016 and this is a great chance to exact some revenge. A trip to Sri Lanka beckons in the winter and a host of youngsters will be hungry to punch their ticket to the island nation with another fine performance.

Cook too will be determined to bow out on a high. One of the finest opening batsmen, the 33-year-old has had a wretched series and a flourishing finale would be a fitting end to his career.

Squads: India (from): Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Karun Nair, Dinesh Karthik (wicketkeeper), Rishabh Pant (wicketkeeper), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur, Hanuma Vihari. 

England (playing XI): Joe Root (captain), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Alastair Cook, Sam Curran, Keaton Jennings, Adil Rashid, Ben Stokes.

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India look to salvage pride

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