From the Euphoria of winning at Lords to abject humiliation at the Ageas Bowl, the Indian caravan now moves to Old Trafford in Manchester the home of Lancashire county cricket club. This is the same ground where the first ever one day International took place and where Sir Vivian Richards took cricket to the next level when he scored 189 in an ODI against England which included a 106 runs last wicket partnership with Michael Holding. This is also the ground which was witness to what is now called the ball of century bowled by undoubtedly the greatest leg spinner ever, Shane Warne. From an Indian perspective it has been one of their bogey grounds where they never won a test match in eight attempts the last of which was in 1990 and ended in a draw.
Manchester is notoriously known for its rapidly changing weather condition and don’t be surprised if the rain and clouds plays a key role in the outcome of this match. In pre 2000 era, Old Trafford produced a wicket which helped spinners more than any other wicket in England. However, of late the wickets produced here are one of the hardest and fastest in country providing lot of pace and good bounce ideal for the tall bowlers.
Alistair Cook must be in a very good frame of mind after the convincing win at Ageas Bowl. He will once again hope to win the toss and with the wicket expected to be green and containing lots of pace and bounce will want to insert Indians into bat. MS Dhoni on the other would be hoping that he actually loses the toss and won’t have to make a decision. His dilemma stems from the belief that inserting the opposition might back fire on them owing to the inconsistent quick bowling resources and he does not have experienced batsmen who can cope with the bounce and the pace expected.
England bowling has all the right ammunition to succeed at this ground. With Liam Plunkett injured, Steven Finn has been added to the squad and one can expect him to straight away slot in the team replacing Chris Jordan who looked patchy in the previous game. With Anderson, Broad, Finn and Woakes lining up in the pace department, the bowling looks ominous and the Indians will have to show some serious technical skills, concentration and guts if they are to post a formidable score.
In Moeen Ali the English have discovered a new off-spinner who is more than handy should the need arise in the last two days of the game. However expect the Indians to show more prudence and be decisive against him unlike the last test where they see utterly confused whether to attack him or milk him off and ultimately losing their wickets to him.
Indian bowling resources for this game on the other hand looks thin on resources and they are entering a new arena of a five test match series with none of them having the experience of playing in one. With Ishant Sharma out injured and Bhuvneshwar Kumar also doubtful, Indian bowling needs to produce one of its best performances in the last few years if they have to fish out 20 English wickets. From an Indian perspective the disappointment so far has been Mohammed Shami who has the pace but seems to be bowling short and simply not enough balls on the correct length to create the pressure to price the wickets out.
We might see Ravindra Jadeja replaced by Ashwin or indeed both of them playing if the Indians decide to go in with five bowlers which anyway might be their best chance to win the game. Ishwar Pandey could be the like to like replacement of Kumar in case he is not fit enough for the match day but Indians will be silently praying for Kumar to be fit, as he has not only been the bowling work horse but also added crucial lower order runs in the games so far. Pnakaj Singh who looked very decent will be hoping to improve on his debut and would like to see some numbers in the wickets column. At certain stages in the third he looked like the only bowler from Indian side who could pick up wickets. His time will certainly come and India and he will be hoping that it is sooner than later.
It will be tactically very interesting to see if the team goes in with five bowlers as this will signal what India expects of themselves in this series. To put it in simple words India just does not have enough bowling resources to get twenty wickets and they would need the fifth bowler. One can easily get into a defensive mindset and think having an extra batsman would save the day but this ploy was clearly busted at Ageas Bowl.
Indian batting is also in need of some repair. Apart from Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane and to a certain extent Pujara, the rest of the batting line up clearly has technical difficulties in dealing with the late swinging balls which has been brilliantly exposed by the english seamers. For a starter Dhawan should be replaced by Gambhir and will most probably be. This will not only bring some experience to the Indian batting but also will give Dhawan to spend some time away from limelight and work on his technical deficiencies outside the off stump. Gambhir on the other hand will be hungry to prove his detractors wrong and this might be what India needs right now, somebody who can show some guts out there which was missing in the abject second inning capitulation at the Ageas Bowl.
There will not be any changes in the rest of the batting line unless for some last minute injuries. Indians will be desperately hoping that Pujara will go and make a big score which has been surprisingly eluding him so far. Although he must remember patience will finally pay dividends and not get over anxious about it. Viral Kohli has been disappointing so far with his judgment outside the off stump. For somebody who is hailed as the next Tendulkar lot more is expected of him in carrying the Indian batting. Once again he looks like someone who wants to have the big score and have it rapidly which is not always the prudent way of playing in England. Murali Vijay has set up the perfect way of how to play in England and rest of the batsmen just has to follow him.
Ajinkya Rahane is in tremendous form and all the Indians will be hoping for another repeat performance from him. Rohit Sharma got out playing casual shots for somebody who is immensely talented. He plays way too many shots and needs to work on his game if he is going to be successful overseas in test matches. The most successful batsmen in UK have been those who play within themselves with lot of patience barring Vivian Richards who was an absolute freak of a batsman. India will hope they will bat long enough and score enough runs to put the English under pressure and will be praying that somehow the bowlers will manage to pick up 20 wickets.
English batting looked solid in Southampton. Cook rediscovered that he can score runs (although he must be seriously consider sending Jadeja a Christmas card) and appeared more fluent the longer he batted. If he continues his vein Indians might have to spend long days in the field. Sam Robson needs to score some runs in this game lest he might find it difficult to justify his place. He is another batsman who needs some technical tweaks to his batting.
Ian Bell looked majestic and he is one of the very few players who never look out of form even when they are going through a rough patch. Gary Balance has been the find of the season for England. His batting just seems to improve with every game that he plays and looks set for a big grand career ahead. His runs will be crucial once again as England look to pounce on the Indian bowling.
A key addition for England in the last test has been Jos Butler. He brings the energy and flamboyancy into this team which was missing previously. His batting and wicket keeping in his debut test displayed the immense potential he possesses and England will hope he quickly becomes the game changer in key situations similar to Adam Gilchrist.
England haven’t lost at Old Trafford since 2001 and they will want to continue the winning trend against this Indian team. On the other hand India knows they have a mountain to climb but will also keep in mind how they played as a team to succeed in Lords. If the Northern weather gods are generous, we will be in for a cracker of a test match with Indians hoping their bowling conjures up some magic.
SportzCosmos Team Prediction
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Sam Robson, 3 Gary Ballance, 4 Ian Bell, 5 Joe Root, 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Jos Buttler (wk), 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Steve Finn, 11 James Anderson.
India (probable) 1 M Vijay, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk) 7, Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Ravichandran Ashwin 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Pankaj Singh, 11 Mohammed Shami.