India takes on England for the final and the important Test of the tour!

For the most of the past few years, India has held the wood over most of their Test opponents, whether at home or away. A heartbreaking loss against the Kiwis in the inaugural WTC final apart, a fiery pace attack and a relentless batting order – which kept finding new heroes even as regular stalwarts tripped – helped the Asian giants shed the tag of being poor travellers. They humiliated the Aussies twice at home, won matches in South Africa and West Indies and currently have their noses ahead 2-1 against England. 

The England series has been an enthralling one, with the order of results being a draw, India, England, India, so far. All victories have been huge margins, with India winning by 151 and 157 runs and England by an innings and 76 runs. 

But what has happened so far bears no importance on the result of the fifth Test to be held here at Edgbaston – which can be regarded more as a one-off Test than the fifth of a series, for winds of heavy change have blown in the intervening nine months or so. 

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A coach-and-captain change in England saw Brendon ‘Baz’ McCullum and Ben Stokes take charge of an England side, which was immediately revitalised into trumping world champions New Zealand 3-0 at home, even as run-machine Joe Root, firebrand Jonny Bairstow, and young guns Alex Lees and Ollie Pope found a new impetus to score heavily. Stuart Broad and James Anderson, stiffed recently by selectors, find their way back into the side and will ask tough questions of a rusty India lineup, which hasn’t been tested in months.

Individually, several of the India players have hit their stride in the longer format of the game, with Cheteshwar Pujara slamming tons for fun, Virat Kohli getting 100-odd runs in the warm-up match against Leicestershire, and Srikar Bharat scoring valuable runs as well. Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah look to be in some sort of rhythm with the red cherry in hand, but whether it will amount to enough resistance against a rampaging English lineup remains in question.

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India has other issues, too, discounting the whole IPL mindset thing they have to shake off. Their newly-anointed all-format skipper, Rohit Sharma, has tested Covid positive and has had to pull out of the Test. His deputy and India’s dependable Mr. 360, KL Rahul, will also be missing in action after a recurring groin injury forced him into surgery. Both of them had scored valuable runs upfront for India in the four Tests last year and had perfected the art of leaving the swinging ball outside off, a skill necessary for survival and subsequent triumph in England, to the extent that any new opener might find difficult to attain. 

Stand-in skipper Jasprit Bumrah is India’s sixth across formats this year, and an unsettled look is what sits heavily on the Indian side and not that of the rampaging tourists they were last year. This, in spite of having one of the best batsmen to have played the game in Virat Kohli and one of the best pacers on the planet right now in Jasprit Bumrah: both of them have had indifferent returns for a significant period of time, and now would be about when they would like to return to their mercurial best and propel India past their English counterparts.

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What happened last year would amount to little for India if this last hurdle is not conquered. Even a draw will see them win a Test series in England after 15 years; incidentally, the last time they did so, their current coach Rahul Dravid was leading a side brimming with greats. A loss, however, will see them lose the advantage and share the series 2-2, and if you ask us here at The Sportsway, the chips are stacked firmly against India going into this encounter, going by form and availability of players. Stay Tuned with The Sportsway for more updates.

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