India hold upper hand heading into third Test against depleted England

Hosts without premier quick Wood for Headingley clash, while spinner Ashwin could feature in Kohli's team

The pressure will well and truly be on England when they host India in the third Test which begins at Headingley on Wednesday after yet another front-line bowler picked up an injury.

England came within touching distance of victory on Day 5 of the second Test at Lord's snaring eight second innings wickets with India's lead under 200. But fast bowlers Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah starred in an 89-run stand to turn the tables and from there, it was India all the way.

Virat Kohli's pace quartet, which also included Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Siraj, ran through England's batting in less than 52 overs to seal a 151-run win to take a 1-0 lead.

To make matters worse, England pacer Mark Wood injured his shoulder while fielding on Day 4, and continued to bowl on the final day. As expected, he was declared unfit for the third Test, further depleting England's pool of available fast bowlers.

Joe Root's team were already without Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes, while all-rounder Ben Stokes is on an indefinite break from cricket. Then seasoned seamer Stuart Broad picked up a calf injury that ruled him out of the series and now Wood is also missing.

James Anderson will now have to carry the bowling attack on his shoulders, with Ollie Robinson, Sam Curran and, possibly, Saqib Mahmood providing support.

Their batting has been problematic as well, with Root's two tons and a fifty compensating for the lack of runs from others. The hosts dropped Dom Sibley following the opener's dismal run of low scores that has seen him average 19.77 in 10 Tests this year. They are likely to promote Haseeb Hameed, who is himself struggling for form, from three to partner Rory Burns at the top of the order.

Root said he will try to make sure the team does not get distracted from the task at hand. There were some altercations between players from both sides during the second Test, which probably resulted in the lack of discipline in England's bowling when India were eight down on the final day.

“We’ve got to make sure that we play the game how we want to play and we look after that as best as we can, and not get too distracted or drawn into anything that’s not honest,” Root said.

“We’ve got to be genuine to ourselves, genuine to how we are as individuals and how we are collectively and be as good as we can, the way that we go. Virat’s team will play how they play, I just want us to go out and be the best version of ourselves.”

The Indian camp, however, is in a much better position. Their pacers hunted as a pack with Siraj landing the final blow to secure victory at the 'home of cricket'.

Openers Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul enjoyed a century stand in the first innings at Lord's and have looked in command this tour. Their lower middle order of Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja have made sizeable contributions.

They will still have some concerns about their middle order, though. Captain Virat Kohli has not scored a Test ton since November 2019 and while Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara came good in the second outing at Lord's with a century stand, that came after a number of low scores; Rahane has two fifties in his last 15 outings, while Pujara's 45 in the second innings at Lord's was his best score in 11 innings. Whether all three have put their indifferent form behind them remains to be seen.

Kohli said that he didn't want to break up a winning combination but admitted he was tempted by the look of the Headingley pitch to play off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.

“As far as Ashwin's playing is concerned, we're quite surprised to see the pitch,” Kohli said on Tuesday. “I thought there'll be more grass on the pitch and it'll be more spicy and lively, but it wasn't the case. So, yeah, anything is possible.

“We always name our 12 and then on the day, we have a look at the pitch and what it could become on day three, day four and accordingly we will go in with the right combination.”

Updated: August 24th 2021, 2:15 PM
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