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    India and England are tied in the third round with high stakes
India and England are tied in the third round with high stakes
via Midjourney

India and England are tied in the third round with high stakes

India will face England's Bazball once again, and Ashwin, Anderson, and Stokes have significant milestones to look forward to.

India's youngsters against England's youngsters

It seems like we've been in this situation before. The scores are tied and there is a lot of anticipation.   An England player had issues with their visa, and India's number four couldn't make it. It feels like we're back in late January 2024.

What an exciting time to be alive! Ben Stokes is about to play his 100th Test match, and R Ashwin is on track to take his 500th Test wicket. James Anderson is close to reaching 700 wickets. India's home dominance is being challenged. Baseball is not just hype. The Apple Vision Pro is making reality obsolete. There are ongoing developments to enable mind control. The trailer for Deadpool 3 has been released. What more could one ask for?

If you are Sarfaraz Khan, you may be on the verge of earning your first-ever India cap. The 26-year-old has dedicated his life to becoming an international cricketer, accumulating impressive statistics during recent domestic seasons. He is now poised to take the highly coveted next step. As a middle-order batsman in subcontinent conditions, he has a lot of potential. He averages and strikes at 70 in first-class cricket.

But it also means that India will be relying on a group of batsmen who are still learning the ropes of Test cricket.  One of the more intriguing and unexpected subplots of this tour has been the battle between the hosts' youngsters and their visitors. In Rajkot, a couple of established stars might take back centre stage. India's lack of experience puts them at a disadvantage against the cunning of James Anderson and the speed of Mark Wood, particularly given their tendency to leave runs on the board.

Rahul Dravid has advised India to adopt a more pragmatic approach. However, Stokes does not appear to place much importance on such advice, as he continued to entrust the ball to Tom Hartley despite being hit all over the field, assuring him that everything was fine and to keep going. Both approaches proved effective. Yashasvi Jaiswal scored a double-century while others failed to cross 34. Hartley, despite being hit for six on the first ball, emerged as the leading wicket-taker for his team after two Tests.

The series, which was expected to feature Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Ravindra Jadeja, and Stokes, is now following a different narrative.

In focus: Rohit Sharma and Joe Root

The batsmen on both sides were challenged in the 2021 series between these two teams. Out of the 156 innings played, only 19 exceeded fifty runs, and among those 19, one stood out. Rohit Sharma strode onto a dust bowl in Chennai and delivered a knock that has become a blueprint for his opponents this time around. His hundred was an ode to attacking instinct. He has not been able to replicate his otherworldly strokeplay this time, despite the pitches being more favourable for batting. However, with three games remaining, India will rely on his strengths to guide them towards the first-innings totals that can help them dictate terms.

Another high performer from 2021, the top-scorer in fact, has bowled more overs (64) than scored runs (52). Joe Root was instrumental in India's defeat three years ago, but currently, he is struggling to even get a good start. Experts used to frequently notice his quick progress in the game, but that is not the case anymore.  Jasprit Bumrah has played a significant role in this. In the two matches played so far, Root has only scored 1 run off 10 balls and has been dismissed twice. Both players will be refreshed after the mid-series break, and the competition will continue.

Team news: Jadeja is in line for a return and Jurel is in line for his debut.

With Virat Kohli unavailable and Shreyas Iyer left out, India's middle-order lacks experience. However, Ravindra Jadeja's return should provide some relief. He has a fine record at his home ground in Rajkot and is likely to play. The remaining responsibility falls on a group of promising rookies who must now prove themselves at the international level. There has also been some focus on the wicketkeeper KS Bharat's performance in front of the stumps, which firmly brings Dhruv Jurel into the picture.

India (probable) Rohit Sharma, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Rajat Patidar, Sarfaraz Khan, Ravindra Jadeja, Dhruv Jurel/KS Bharat, R Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj

England, who played the first two Tests with only one fast bowler, will now have both Anderson and Wood. The batting lineup remains unchanged.

England: Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Ben Foakes, Rehan Ahmed, Tom Hartley, Mark Wood, James Anderson

The pitch is level and the weather is pleasant

Runs are expected in Rajkot. Local player Jadeja predicts that the surface will initially be flat and then gradually take a turn due to natural wear and tear. The weather has been cool in the lead-up to the Test, with temperatures ranging from early 20C in the mornings to low 30C in the afternoons. This is a positive sign for the batters as the pitch may not break up as quickly without a lot of sun.

Statistics and Trivia

  • 210 people have achieved Test double-centuries and 752 have achieved Test five-fors, but only 34 have accomplished both. Stokes is among this exceptional group of allrounders, which includes some interesting outliers such as Kraigg Brathwaite, Virender Sehwag, and Jason Gillespie.
  • Bumrah has the best bowling average (20.19) of any bowler with at least 100 wickets in Test cricket since his debut in January 2018.
  • England's spinners have taken 33 wickets in the series so far, with an average of 34, compared to India's spinners who have taken 23 wickets with an average of 38. However, this is not a new phenomenon. Ashwin and Jadeja have previously demonstrated their ability to improve their performances, while other visiting teams have struggled after promising starts.
  • Anderson is just five wickets away from reaching 700 Test wickets, and he will undoubtedly have his sights set on surpassing Shane Warne's record of 708.
  • There are indications that India's XI in Rajkot will include up to two debutants, which is a rare occurrence. Since 2013, they have only had to resort to this four times, with two of those instances occurring during another injury-hit series against Australia in 2020-21.

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