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India bullish about their prospects in Battle of the Swingers with England ahead of third Test

They will never have a better chance to emulate one of England’s greatest teams and win a series in India, the way Alastair Cook and company did in 2012. 

Wednesday’s day-night third Test, with the series level at 1-1 and two to play, represents a massive opportunity for Joe Root to take a big step towards making history.

Yes, England were thoroughly out-played in the second Test but that was on a pitch that was unfit for purpose. 

Jofra Archer is put through his pace in England training at the Sardar Patel Stadium this week

Ben Stokes said England’s fast bowlers will be ‘licking their lips’ at prospect of the third Test

The enormous Sardar Patel Stadium, the largest cricket venue in the world, hosts the Test

Everybody expects the turning ball in India – and no-one complained when it turned square in Sri Lanka – but no-one expects lumps to come out of the surface on the first day at the magnificent Sardar Patel Stadium, as they did in Chennai.

The key will be whether the pink SG ball and the ring of LED lights around the perimeter of the roof at the 110,000 capacity arena really are conducive to lavish swing and justify Ben Stokes’ assertion that England’s fast bowlers are ‘licking their lips’ in anticipation.

There was a clue, perhaps, in what India expect in the bullish way Virat Kohli reacted to Stokes’ confidence. Basically, the India captain reminded us, anything England’s seamers can do, his can too.

‘I’m not bothered about England’s strengths,’ said Kohli. ‘We have beaten them in their home where the ball does way more. If it’s a seam friendly track for them it is for us too and we have the best bowling attack in the world. 

‘There are many weaknesses in the opposition as well as strengths. We are ready for anything that comes our way.’

India captain Virat Kohli (left), with England’s Joe Root, after the second Test in Chennai

Root was more reluctant to down play the impact of spin and the threat of Ravichandran Ashwin but acknowledged that a brand of ball England have never used before in a rebuilt stadium staging its first Test represents a big step into the unknown.

‘I’m sure at some point the wicket will turn but the majority of them do in Test cricket,’ said Root. ‘It’s just when it turns, and will it happen off the straight or out of the rough?

‘But the fact our bowlers are full of confidence and may have a big impact in India as a seam group is exciting. There might be extra lateral movement and that will work in our favour but I don’t think it changes how we operate as a team.’

So, then, are we facing a battle between Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav on one side and Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer and either Chris Woakes or Stuart Broad on the other? 

James Anderson gets to grips with the pink ball ahead of the day-night third Test ths week

With the added unpredictability day-night cricket and the pink ball bring? It does seem so and that is an enticing prospect.

Certainly both sides’ last memory of day-night Test cricket is not auspicious for a high-scoring game. 

England were bowled out for 58 by New Zealand three years ago in Auckland, 33 of them from Craig Overton at No 9, when Trent Boult and Tim Southee swung the pink ball around corners on the first morning.

And India, of course, were famously bowled out for 36 in Adelaide in December in their second innings of the first Test before Kohli went home on paternity leave and his stand-in Ajinkya Rahane turned round their fortunes without him to win the series 2-1.

‘Both were bizarre experiences for two quality sides,’ insisted Kohli, who is lucky to be playing in this Test after his blatant shows of dissent to umpire Nitin Menon in Chennai. 

‘Barring 45 minutes of bad cricket in Adelaide we dominated that Test. We are confident in the way we play the pink ball.’

Joe Root after being bowled by Trent Boult for a duck in the 2018 pink ball Test in Auckland

Root believes double figure scores might be par for the pink ball course. ‘These strange passages of play have happened and collapses seem to be a trend in day-night Tests,’ he said. 

‘You need to make sure you stop them as a batting group. I think it’s vital to use your first 20 balls as a batsman to get used to conditions and be aware they can change throughout the day.’

An ever-rotating England could make as many as five changes today to their beaten side after making four to a winning one after the first Test. 

But Root’s inclination yesterday was to leave his choice as late as possible just in case he wakes up today and a pitch that has been green for most of the week suddenly turns into another dust-bowl.

Virat Kohli walks off after being run-out during India’s abysmal collapse in the day-night Test at Adelaide during their recent tour of Australia

The damage is writ large on the Adelaide Oval scoreboard as India were bowled out for 36

‘We’re going to take our time,’ said the England captain. ‘We’re going to make sure we give ourselves as much information as possible before we make that decision. The pitch has changed quite drastically the last few days.

‘There’s been a bit more live grass than previous wickets we’ve seen out here but it has got drier as the days have gone on, as you’d expect it to. 

‘We need to have real clarity on the balance of attack we want and seeing how big a factor dew might be.’

The smart money is on Jonny Bairstow replacing Dan Lawrence at No 3 and Anderson and Archer returning to take the new, hopefully swinging, ball. 

It will be a close call between Rory Burns and Zak Crawley at the top of the order while Broad and Woakes appear to be competing for one place. 

Zak Crawley in the nets on Monday – he will compete with Rory Burns for a spot atop the order

Unless the pitch really has changed this morning and a second spinner in Dom Bess comes into the equation.

Much then for England to ponder before they take to the biggest cricket ground in the world in front of a crowd of around 55,000 that Kohli hopes will help swing the series in India’s favour. 

‘The crowd will play a massive role,’ he added. ‘When that many people put their energy behind you it does push you in the right direction and put pressure on the opposition. I hope England will be intimidated by the crowd.’

Intimidated or inspired – that is the question for an improving England Test side who simply have to take their chance now if they are to remain in the running for a place in the World Test Championship final. The stakes are high.


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