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Pride at stake, Kohli & Co eye consolation win

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India's captain Virat Kohli (L) and team-mates leave the field at the end of the final session of play on the third day of the third Test cricket match between England and India at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, central England on August 20, 2018. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. NO ASSOCIATION WITH DIRECT COMPETITOR OF SPONSOR, PARTNER, OR SUPPLIER OF THE ECB

London : Battered after yet another deflating series defeat, the Indian cricket team will be aiming to pick up pieces while spoiling Alastair Cook’s farewell party in the fifth and final Test against England starting Friday. With England taking an unassailable 3-1 lead in the five-Test series, the final match at the Oval is only of academic importance but Virat Kohli will want to finish on a definite high.

A scoreline of 2-3 will definitely look much better than 1-4 and India will any day take Test win. Chief coach Ravi Shastri has tried to keep the morale of the team high by calling it the “best travelling side in last 15 years”, something that is not corroborated by facts.

A statistical lowdown will show that India under Sourav Ganguly’s leadership drawn Test series in England (2002) and Australia (2003-04) apart from winning a Test in West Indies (a team that had Brian Lara, Carl Hooper, Shivanarine Chanderpaul) and a series in Pakistan. Under Rahul Dravid, India won twin series in West Indies (2006) and England (2007) apart from winning a Test in South Africa.


Having lost back to back overseas series in South Africa and England, the myth of being good travellers has been busted and they have not been able to convince that they are good enough to win a series outside sub-continent.

Kohli-led side though has retained its number one Test ranking despite series’ losses in both overseas tours in 2018 thus far. In this backdrop, Kohli’s India will be playing a Test match where team combination will again come under focus.

While they would want to play the best possible eleven, there is also a case for experimentation with the line-up. With Prithvi Shaw’s inclusion in the Test squad, the Indian selectors are looking ahead to the next line of openers. And with Murali Vijay dropped, they need to firm up plans ahead as attention will soon turn to the tour of Australia in December.

A school of thought suggests that Shaw should be thrown into the deep end of the pool to ascertain if he can take on the pressure of facing the best bowlers international cricket has to offer. Even if he fails to get going in this one-off Test, at age 18, Shaw still has time to climb the ladder again. Meanwhile, any success on his part will provide an easy answer to the opening conundrum ahead of the Australian tour.

Elsewhere though, India will be looking to play with their lower-middle order and bowling combinations. Ravindra Jadeja looks set to play his first Test on tour, with Ravichandran Ashwin not bowling in the nets on Wednesday and moving gingerly as well.

While there is no confirmation from the management, it has been reliably learnt that he has aggravated his hip strain and will miss out on the final Test.

For England, this Test will be marked more by emotion than anything else. One of their greatest ever, Alastair Cook, takes his final bow and leaves the hosts potentially searching for two openers for their tour of Sri Lanka later in the year. Given that an unchanged squad for this fifth Test was announced after Cook went public with his decision to retire, the selectors retain faith in Keaton Jennings who seemed to have turned a confident corner in the  Southampton Test.

England could also opt to rest one of James Anderson and Stuart Broad in light of their workloads. The pitch, on Wednesday, bore a green tinge like all other wickets in this series. However, it was more an uneven sprinkling than an even covering.

Squads

India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Dinesh Karthik, Rishabh Pant (wk), Karun Nair, Hardik Pandya,

R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Hanuma Vihari, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.

England: Joe Root (capt), Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Oliver Pope, Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Sam Curran, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, Ben Stokes.

Match starts at 3. 30pm