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If England is deemed the epitome of new-age Test cricket under Ben Stokes, who will play his 100th Test here, India is a concoction of new and moving parts, a team in transition. This fascinating rivalry, a clash of cultures and philosophies, between England’s rock ‘n’ roll revelry and the timeless truths of Test cricket, the Indian way, is ready to rip itself a new chapter when the third Test gets underway at the Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) Stadium in Rajkot on Thursday.

The last time England visited Rajkot for a Test, in 2016, it nearly tripped up the host, eventually settling for a well-earned draw. With India levelling the ongoing series 1-1 after a 106-run win in the second Test, there is a temptation to declare that ‘Bazball’ has met its kryptonite, but has it, really? After all, when was the last time an Indian team arrived at a Test match at home and it felt like it was going to play catch-up? That England got as close to a win in Visakhapatnam as it did without any hundreds will keep India on its toes. India last lost a Test series at home over 11 years ago, in late 2012, against Alastair Cook’s England. Since then, no team has even managed to draw a series against India at home.

KL Rahul has failed to recover in time for the third Test, with Karnataka batter Devdutt Padikkal being named as his replacement. Sarfaraz Khan could take up Rahul’s spot in the XI for a maiden Test cap, while KS Bharat, who has had a lacklustre series so far, may lose his place to Dhruv Jurel, another likely debutant.

Virat Kohli continues to be unavailable for personal reasons, while Mohammed Siraj, who was rested for the second Test, is set to make his return. Ravindra Jadeja is fit to play and is expected to come back in for either Kuldeep Yadav or Axar Patel. Given the likely flat nature of the surface, Kuldeep could pip Axar courtesy of his wicket-taking threat.

There were some suggestions that Jasprit Bumrah could be rested for the third Test. However, he has been named in the squad but reportedly joined the team late and did not practise on match eve.

Bumrah had finished the last Test with a haul of nine for 91 and has an average of 10.66 in this series so far. He has been treated with respect by the English batters, but sadly for Rohit Sharma, he can only bowl from one end. It was Bumrah’s thrilling burst of reverse swing that started to sway the momentum India’s way in Visakhapatnam. In Rajkot, the outfield is quite green, which means reverse swing could be tough to find, but trust Bumrah — if he plays — to exploit any help there is.

IND vs ENG, 3rd Test: In-transition India looks to keep ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ England at bay

India’s Jasprit Bumrah celebrates the wicket of England’s Ollie Pope during the second day of the second Test cricket match between India and England.
| Photo Credit:
DEEPAK KR

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India’s Jasprit Bumrah celebrates the wicket of England’s Ollie Pope during the second day of the second Test cricket match between India and England.
| Photo Credit:
DEEPAK KR

If Bumrah was the wrecker-in-chief in the second Test, he found an able ally in Kuldeep, the left-arm wrist spinner, who was only playing because of Jadeja’s injury. His skid and bounce made him a useful addition because Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar occasionally looked out of sorts in Visakhapatnam, especially in the first innings.

However, Ashwin was vital in carving out the middle order in the fourth essay, taking out Joe Root and Ollie Pope and moving to 499 Test wickets. History beckons for India’s most successful off-spinner in Tests in Rajkot.

ALSO READ | England announces playing XI for third Test vs India: Mark Wood replaces Shoaib Bashir

The Indian spinners need to be assisted by some intuitive field placements by Rohit, who was at times guilty of being reactive in the second Test, setting the field back at the first sign of an onslaught.

The first hour on day one of the second Test was a microcosm of everything that’s debatable with respect to India’s batting in this series. On a pitch that stayed relatively true from start to finish, rarely was anything attacked, and ultimately, very little was gained. In retrospect, it was this passage that could’ve seriously hurt India’s chances of winning the game, if not for Yashasvi Jaiswal’s ebullient double hundred in the first innings and Shubman Gill’s stroke-filled ton in the third. After all, it was the 143-run deficit from the first innings that forced the Three Lions behind the eight ball early in the game.

Gill at No. 3 looked nervous at times, giving the impression he was going into a shell. Perhaps clarity on whether he is a stopgap one-down or a long-term option in that position could help allay doubts. After all, most of his runs in Tests and Limited Overs Internationals (LOIs) have come opening the batting, so the transition will take time to get used to. Also, while the red ball does move a little more than the white ball in the air and off the pitch as well, there is still no need for him to be overly watchful in Tests.

India’s batting has remained fragile and prone to collapse, as evidenced during its third innings in the second Test. Batting timidly after Gill’s dismissal, India’s last six wickets fell for just 44 runs in 23 overs. That’s one problem they need to sort out.

England also displayed frailties in batting, except for Zak Crawley, its best batter in both innings, who scored twin fifties. Meanwhile, numbers one to seven contributed nine scores between 20 and 30 across both innings. Joe Root’s form at No. 3 — he has 56 runs in four innings — has been an Achilles heel too. Perhaps affected by his injured finger, he looked fidgety for nine balls during the chase in Visakhapatnam, in which he hit two fours and a six and survived an LBW review before being caught at point off the 10th.

India’s Ravichandran Ashwin celebrates the wicket of of England’s Joe Root during the fourth day of the second Test cricket match between India and England.

India’s Ravichandran Ashwin celebrates the wicket of of England’s Joe Root during the fourth day of the second Test cricket match between India and England.
| Photo Credit:
DEEPAK KR

lightbox-info

India’s Ravichandran Ashwin celebrates the wicket of of England’s Joe Root during the fourth day of the second Test cricket match between India and England.
| Photo Credit:
DEEPAK KR

While Root is unarguably England’s best batter in the Test format, he occasionally faces challenges adapting to the aggressive style of this team, desperately trying innovative strokeplay when textbook construction of an innings would work just fine. That said, Root was averaging close to 49 in Tests before the Bazball era. Since then (May 12, 2022), he is averaging 53, so it has done him some good.

In team news, England spinner Jack Leach has been ruled out of the remainder of the Test tour with a knee problem. The visiting side, which has picked only one specialist fast bowler for each of the first two Tests, will field a two-man pace attack in Rajkot, with Mark Wood replacing Bashir.

“Taking a bit of knowledge from the last Test match we played here, albeit a long time ago, it was a pretty true, flat wicket,” Stokes said.

“Looking at it today, it looks a bit platey but I think it’s a good wicket.

“Bringing in an extra seamer this week is the option we’ve gone with because we think it’s going to give us the best chance of winning.”

Going by the nine centuries in just two Tests in Rajkot, a run fest is on the cards.

India’s updated Squad for the third Test

Rohit Sharma (C), Jasprit Bumrah (VC), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Rajat Patidar, Sarfaraz Khan, Dhruv Jurel (WK), KS Bharat (WK), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja*, Axar Patel, Washington Sundar, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohd. Siraj, Mukesh Kumar, Akash Deep, Devdutt Padikkal.



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