England hope for final flourish at home away from home in Dharamsala Test

Anderson, Bairstow and Ashwin on verge of history with India having already won five-match series

England seamer James Anderson during training for the fifth Test against India in Dharamsala. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

Away tours are generally about overcoming unfamiliar conditions and developing skills you normally don't employ. But for England, the last match of the five-Test series against India in Dharamsala will feel a lot closer to home than for the hosts when the finale begins on Thursday.

The venue has hosted only one Test in the past – in 2017 – but it was held later in the month of March. This time, the schedule has meant teams will play in the cold; minimum temperatures in the northern Indian city at the foot of the Himalayas are expected to be in the low single digits.

Rain has also been forecast for some part of the match.

Cold, damp, and the occasional sunlight sounds a lot more like England than India. Also, around 5,000 England supporters are expected to attend the match as the picturesque venue has been on the bucket list for a number of supporters since it hosted games during the ODI World Cup last year.

Ben Stokes's team should therefore feel at home as they look to end a largely promising tour on a high.

India took an unassailable 3-1 lead after a tense battle in the fourth Test in Ranchi where the visitors had gained a valuable first-innings lead of 46. Thereafter, a five-wicket haul from Ravichandran Ashwin and fighting knocks from captain Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill and Dhruv Jurel in the second innings turned the match and the series decisively in India's favour.

England have been far more competitive than the scoreline suggests, and they will hope to end the tour with a 3-2 verdict, which would be a fair summary of their efforts.

Stokes has gone in with the best possible combination for the fifth Test, bringing in express quick Mark Wood in place of Ollie Robinson, who looked down on pace and intent in the fourth match.

The surface at the HPCA Stadium has been rolled flat with hardly any grass cover, which means batting should be easier and spinners should come into play. Which is why England have gone in with two quicks – James Anderson and Wood – while retaining the highly impressive spin duo of Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir.

"We thought there would be a bit more grass on the wicket just because of where we are but overall I think the wicket looks an absolute belter," Stokes said on the eve of the match.

"If I was the captain of the one-day team here, I wouldn't want to win the toss because I wouldn't know what to do, just because of how good the wicket looks (for batting)."

A few England players will be a bit more motivated for play to begin on Thursday. Jonny Bairstow will be playing his 100th Test and will want to make up for a miserable tour on which he has scored just 170 runs in eight outings, with his spot in the team under the scanner. Also, veteran seamer Anderson is two wickets short of 700 in Test cricket, which he would like to achieve at the picturesque venue in front of thousands of England fans.

India, too, have a player eyeing a piece of history – off-spinner Ashwin will be playing his 100th Test as well. After delivering a series-deciding performance in Ranchi, Ashwin will be keen to complete the job at a ground where both his bowling and batting skills could flourish.

The hosts also welcome fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah back into the team, which should give them a cutting edge on a pitch that does not promise a lot of help to bowlers.

Captain Sharma admitted the challenges posed by England during the series have tested his skills as a leader.

Sharma said he had become a better captain over the hard-fought series against England, with the "pressure" of the tour forcing him to reflect on his shortcomings.

"It was a great series for me to learn as a captain and there are a lot of different challenges that came across our way," Sharma said.

"As a captain, I got to learn a lot about how to utilise the players and obviously, when the pressure is put back on you, how to respond to certain situations of the game and things like that. I think it was a great series to be part of.

"I am glad that I was captaining this series, it made me understand where I have lacked as a captain and what are the things I need to do differently."

Updated: March 06, 2024, 10:43 AM