India vs England: Fresh track, pink ball and WTC final berth at stake — challenges aplenty for both teams at Motera

india-vs-england:-fresh-track,-pink-ball-and-wtc-final-berth-at-stake-—-challenges-aplenty-for-both-teams-at-motera

There is a lot to look out for in third India vs England Test. It is a pink-ball Test, something which Indians have not come to terms with so far. Its mention brings back the horrific memories of Adelaide for Indians. A bit of history always adds up to the build-up. In addition, it is only the second pink-ball Test happening in India, and that too at a newly built stadium, which is no ordinary cricket ground. There will be 50,000 people cheering for Team India on all days of the Test at the world’s largest cricket stadium, despite the cut down in the number of spectators due to COVID protocols.

Both teams have had a good break after playing two Test matches, winning one each. The good thing about the pink-ball Test is that it breaks the monotony. The English fans and several critics complained about the pitch, that Chepauk served an under-cooked pitch and that such tracks should cost India some World Test Championship points. While Rohit Sharma rubbished such talks with his ‘talk cricket, not pitches’ comment (reminding critics how Indians don’t complain when they play abroad about pitches), and Ben Stokes advised Test players to be proficient to play in all conditions, the debate may still carry on at Motera. However, pink-ball Test brings many more elements into the contest which will have a say on the result of the match. Let’s discuss them.

Team combinations

England missed a third spinner in the second Test and the additional pacer did not come to any good use on a dry and spin-friendly Chepauk track. At Motera, they don’t have any genuine third spinner option as Moeen Ali has returned to England. The fact that the England team management had asked Moeen to stay back puts light on England’s issues at the moment, with no third spinner available.

However, the return of James Anderson and Mark Wood after they were rested as per the rotation policy, and the availability of fit-again Jofra Archer makes it tough for England management to decide on the XI, knowing how alien this new track at Motera is. Surely the pink ball will swing more than red ball, hence the pacers will have a more important role at Ahmedabad.

Jonny Bairstow also returns to the squad. The way Ben Foakes kept wickets and batted in the second Test, it will be a tough call for Root to hand the keeping gloves back to the returning keeper. Chances are Root may replace Daniel Lawrence with Bairstow and play both the keeper/batsman, with Foakes keeping the job behind the stumps.

File image of England Test captain Joe Root. AP

Root said the final decision on the XI will be taken after having a look at the pitch.

“We’re going to take our time with the limited information we have on this ground and pink ball cricket. You know, we are going to make sure, we give ourselves as much (time) as possible heading into the game before we make a decision,” he said.

From India’s standpoint, one may see the return of Umesh Yadav at Motera. He cleared the fitness Test on 22 February and was added to the squad, strengthening India’s pace attack ahead of the all-important day-night Test. Umesh is a genuine swing bowler who builds up good pace and would be quite handy with the pink ball, especially at the dusk. This may result in India breaking away from the three-spinners strategy in the series, and it is highly likely Kuldeep Yadav might lose his place for Umesh as Axar Patel’s batting gives team more depth. Jasprit Bumrah should return too as India will have to play their three best pacers in the pink-ball game.

The pitch and the conditions

James Anderson joked about the Motera pitch where the third Test is to be played, saying that there is a lot of grass on it but he knows it will be all cut on the match day.

This observation from Anderson is coming off the experience of playing first two Tests at Chennai, where the grass would be seen on the pitch till the day of the match.

The pitch at Motera is expected to be of the same nature as Chennai’s. Keeping the grass on it would give England an advantage. Their spinners have done well but they are not their biggest strength. Their pace attack is. Not that India don’t have a potent pace attack at their disposal, but why give the opponent any advantage at home?

This is the first Test match at the newly-built Motera and it happens to be a day-night Test, only the second pink-ball Test in India. While the pitch might not be too different from Chepauk, the pink ball and the lights will certainly come into play, something both the teams have less idea about playing in India.

“It is much more challenging to play with pink ball regardless of the pitch you play on. Especially in the evening, if as a batting team, you are starting your innings under lights then that one and a half hour is very challenging,” India captain Kohli said on the eve of the Test.

Mark Wood said earlier that England camp is experiencing more swing in the nets at Motera which is a healthy sign for a team that boasts of a great pace attack. The fact that there is red soil beneath the pitch will help the spinners as well.

The SG pink ball is expected to last long also and swing more in the day-night conditions at Motera. Also, there are chances of dew playing its part later in the day, making it difficult for spinners eventually to grip the ball.

Kohli expects both pacers and spinners to have an equal chance to have a go at batsmen in pink-ball Test, courtesy of the conditions, and the nature of the ball. He said, “Yes spin will come into play for sure but I don’t think the new ball and fast bowlers can be ignored. The pink ball does bring them into the game till the ball is nice and shiny, something we are very well aware of and preparing accordingly.”

WTC final berth

England should be credited for still keeping the World Test Championship final talks alive with one place still remaining up for grabs. At Motera, India can take one step closer to the final, with a lead of 2-1 at the end of the third Test but the challenges are aplenty. They are not just tied 1-1 in the series, 1-1 in the race to WTC final, but they are also 1-1 in pink-ball Tests. The conditions, the pink ball will pose a different challenge to India, who cannot afford to give England a 2-1 lead.

Squads:

India: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli(c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant(w), Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Siraj, Wriddhiman Saha, Umesh Yadav, Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Washington Sundar

England: Rory Burns, Dominic Sibley, Daniel Lawrence, Joe Root(c), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Ben Foakes(w), Jofra Archer, Olly Stone, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Dominic Bess, Zak Crawley

The live telecast will be on Star Sports Network. The match will be played from 24 to 28 February at Motera and day’s play will begin at 2.30 pm (IST). You can also catch the live scorecard and over-by-over updates on Firstpost.com

Times2 Desk
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