India vs England Third Test: Visitors Preview

After the disappointing loss against India at Visakhapatnam, England will look to bounce back in the third Test in Mohali, starting on Saturday.

This Test offers a chance at redemption for England. After offering so many signs of improvement in Rajkot – batsmen were scoring hundreds and the spin department were a threat – the performance in Vizag was a step in the wrong direction.

As we have seen before, winning the toss is a major advantage. India capitalised on that by racking up 455 and it seemed inevitable that Virat Kohli would go big after the warning signs in the first Test. Finding a way to get Kohli out cheaply is now imperative in this series for England. He is a batsman who is currently at the peak of his powers and could well make the difference in this series.

Yet the major disappointment from an England perspective was the response to India’s score. It is no secret in the subcontinent that first-innings runs are crucial just to stay in the match. So when the visitors collapsed from 51-1 to 80-5 on the second evening, the chances of coming back into the Test were virtually blown.

The manner of the dismissals was the main cause for concern. Joe Root needlessly ran out Haseeb Hameed, Ben Duckett‘s technical faults were exposed by Ravi Ashwin once again and Root then proceeded to sky a catch to mid-off when well-set on 53. The room for more profligate dismissals now becomes much thinner.

Alastair Cook‘s men can’t do much about whether or not the toss goes their way. However, they can control how they bat. As we saw in Rajkot, a solid start puts pressure on the opposition and runs from the top order will be of utmost importance. Hameed has shown that he has the temperament that defies his 19 years and in partnership with Cook, can provide the platform for a big first-innings score.

The opening partnership is made even more significant as a result of how well Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow are currently playing in England’s engine room. Coming together at 80-5, the pair negated a tough early spell before flourishing with more attacking strokeplay. What was particularly pleasing to see was the ease at which both picked length – such a key facet to playing spin in India – which allowed them to score at a positive tempo. If England get off to a good start, Stokes and Bairstow could do some real damage.

The bowling department, however, certainly offered more encouragement. Adil Rashid, especially, has been a shining light so far on this tour. Not only is the leg-spinner the series’ highest wicket taker with 13, his average of 28.46 with the ball is the best of any spinner on both sides to have played both Tests so far. It represents a dramatic improvement in Rashid’s game, one that England will hope to continue in Mohali.

In terms of team news, England are likely to make changes for this Test. In the batting, Jos Buttler looks set to replace the struggling Ben Duckett, who averages just 15.71 on this subcontinent tour so far. Quite where Buttler will bat, though, is another question. What seems most probable is that the 26-year-old will slot in at seven, with the rest of the order moving up a place.

Bowling-wise, Stuart Broad looks certain to miss out after straining ligaments in his foot in Vizag. That should see the return of Chris Woakes, who could add some extra pace to the England attack on a potentially more benign pitch for the seamers in Mohali. In addition, Zafar Ansari‘s place looks under threat after a lacklustre display in the second Test, meaning there is a case for Gareth Batty to come back into the side as the third spinner, at his expense.

Key Players

Jonny Bairstow

Without going big on this tour so far, Bairstow has been consistent at number seven. Scores of 52, 47, 24, 3, 46, 53 and 34* in both Bangladesh and India represent starts that have significantly helped England recover from their top-order wobbles. Yet with Bairstow set to move back into the top six, the chance now presents itself to bat long and really stamp some authority on this series. And being Test cricket’s leading run-scorer for 2016 (1251 runs), it is a challenge that is well withing Bairstow’s grasp.

James Anderson

Anderson made an impressive return to the England line-up in Visag, picking up four wickets and going at just 2.71 runs an over. What was particularly pleasing was his effectiveness with the new ball. In conditions that are so often the graveyard for swing bowlers, Anderson managed to really make the ball talk, as India were reduced to 22-2 in the first innings and 40-3 in the second. The 34-year-old’s skill and experience will be vital to putting India’s batsmen under pressure once more.

Likely XI:

  1. Alastair Cook (c)
  2. Haseeb Hameed
  3. Joe Root
  4. Moeen Ali
  5. Ben Stokes
  6. Jonny Bairstow (wk)
  7. Jos Buttler
  8. Chris Woakes
  9. Adil Rashid
  10. Gareth Batty
  11. James Anderson