After drawing level in the Test series against India with a resounding victory down in Southampton last week, England will look to take a 2-1 series lead in the match starting tomorrow at Old Trafford, Manchester.
Alistair Cooks troops arrive at one of Englands traditional strongholds in much better heart than when they started the match down at the Rose Bowl, with more than just the result having gone in their favour since then. Not only did they win the match by the small margin of 266 runs, their senior players managed to fire in tandem for arguably the first time this summer. Cook made two excellent 50’s, Ian Bell scored an effortlessly classy 167, and Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad bowled with menace and hostility, taking 10 wickets in the game between them. As well as this, they were also boosted over the weekend with the news that Anderson would be able to play at his home ground after being cleared of the Level 3 charge brought against him by Ravi Jadeja.
Jadeja had accused Anderson of physically confronting him and pushing him hard out of the way, while England had replied by accusing Jadeja of confronting Anderson in an aggressive and unnecessary manner, bat raised. Despite all this rather pointless posturing and finger-pointing, the suspicion by many seasoned pundits that this was all wasted effort was proven correct when the Australian judge in charge of proceedings took around 10 minutes (according to reports), to dismiss the case due to a lack of unbiased evidence.
Both sides will look to move on from this unfortunate incident and concentrate on matters on the pitch from here on in, starting with the team selections. It’s unlikely that Cook will see the need for any changes, with all of the batsmen and most of the bowlers having fired. However, should he feel the need to replace Chris Jordan or Chris Woakes after neither took any wickets at Southampton, there are two ready-made, raring to go replacements who have been called up. Liam Plunkett missed the Rose Bowl test with a fixture-congestion-related niggle, while Steven Finn has been brought into the Test squad for the first time since the Ashes due to excellent early season form in the County Championship. Cook may not feel Finn is quite ready for international Test match cricket quite yet and may want to ease him in by playing some ODI cricket, so Plunkett for Jordan is arguably a more likely possibility.
As for India, MS Dhoni has some serious thinking to do. Rohit Sharma came in for the last match as an extra batsman, and promptly failed to score any runs. Not only this, but the loss of the 5th bowler meant as soon as England had got past the luckless Pankaj Singh’s initial spell, it was relatively plain sailing. Pankaj would be extremely unlucky to lose his place after actually looking quite hostile for long spell (and been denied at least 3 wickets by poor catching and poor decisions), but Ravi Ashwin is waiting in the wings and surely must come into the side for someone. Mohammed Shami is the other option to be replaced, having been fairly anonymous as well. Stuart Binny is an option if Dhoni wishes to compromise by putting in an extra all-rounder, while Ravi Jadeja should also be feeling nervous about retaining his place after looking horrifically unthreatening as the sole spinner. He was comprehensively outbowled by Moeen Ali, and his batting will never really be up to Test match level. Last but not least, the opening batsmens slot currently occupied by Dhawan could be taken by the experienced figure of Gautam Gambhir after Dhawan has failed in all his innings so far.
With the weather looking ominous for the weekend, it will be up to England to set the tempo in the match and prove that the match in Southampton was no false dawn. In short, they must prove that the much-heralded ‘New Era’, has finally begun.
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