Nine months is a long time in cricket. In between the fourth test, which took place last year, and the rescheduled test, which will happen next month, both England and India have come a long way. 

The ignominy of the Ashes tour Down Under forced England to sack both their head coach and captain, and a new era under Brendon McCullum has kicked off on a glorious note. In the era of endless new dawns for England’s Test, the newest is perhaps the most exciting too. There’s a sense of newfound intent and belligerence about this Ben Stokes’ side that was always missing when Joe Root was at the helm. Moreover, with the resurgence of Jonny Bairstow and Ollie Pope, the team looks in a much better state than it was a year ago. 

India, just like their opponents, will be playing the final game of the series under a different captain — Rohit Sharma. Having surrendered meekly in South Africa, they now must win this game to improve their credentials. For all the talk about an era of unprecedented world domination, they should have a series win in their resume to be counted in the same breath as Steve Waugh’s Australia. Let’s take a look at how we can stack up for the final test:

Top Order: Rohit Sharma, Shubhman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara

India will sorely miss the presence of KL Rahul, who, along with Rohit Sharma, very much formed the foundation of India’s innings on the tour. With the middle-order of Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, and Virat Kohli unable to contribute much, it was the opening pair of Rahul and Sharma that saved India from a batting collapse. 

Rohit will have to open the innings with Shubman Gill, who is back in the side after a long layoff due to injury. Gill has a glaring weakness against in-swingers, and the likes of Stuart Broad and James Anderson will relish bowling at him, but if he survives the opening phase, you can expect a substantial knock from him. 

Cheteshwar Pujara has redeemed himself with a stellar County Championship with Sussex this season, and thus he’ll continue to be the No. 3 for India. In four matches, Pujara scored 720 runs at an average of 120. 

Middle Order: Virat Kohli, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant

While Virat Kohli’s form remains an issue, the middle order still doesn’t look as fragile as the last year. If Kohli turns back the clock, the Indian team will suddenly have an upper hand over England, whose batting is still largely dependent on Ben Stokes and Joe Root. 

Just below Kohli, India will be playing either Shreyas Iyer or Hanuma Vihari. Iyer has done remarkably well in his last test series, but batting in the overseas condition is a wholly different game. He hasn’t ever batted in England, so to include a first-timer in a one-off test looks like a risky proposition. Moreover, his competition is against Hanuma Vihari, who has got watertight defence and solid footwork to negate the movements.

Thus Vihari is likely to be the No. 5 for the tourists, though India may also ask him to open the innings due to his technical adeptness. In that case, Shubman Gill will take the No. 5 position. There’s no competition for Rishabh Pant in the side, and he will continue to be the last recognised batter for the side.

All-Rounders: R Ashwin and Shardul Thakur

This is where things get tricky for team management. Throughout the series last year, the omission of R Ashwin was the major talking point, as the team banked upon Ravindra Jadeja for his batting skill. But at times it backfired. Jadeja was unable to control the run-flow, and while he is a great attacking batter in home conditions, in foreign conditions, there’s only a marginal difference between him and Ashwin. 

Jadeja didn’t have the best of times during the Indian Premier League 2022. He was stripped of his captaincy halfway through the season, underperformed with both bat and ball, looking terribly out of touch. It makes little sense to directly include him in the decider. Shardul Thakur, who returned 7/61 in South Africa, will be the pace-bowling all-rounder for the side.

Bowling: Mohammed Siraj, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami

Despite the bowling riches, the pace troika of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, and Mohammed Shami is a no-brainer. There’s a case to be made for Umesh Yadav, who bagged six wickets at the Oval, but India needs someone of Siraj’s build. Siraj’s scrambled seam had caused too many problems for the opponents, and thus he shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Featured Image Source: BCCI/Twitter