The fourth Test between England and India at Southampton starting on August 30 is expected to be one of the most important match for both the teams in the recent times. The five-match Test series is currently led 2-1 by the hosts, but the visitors will be high on confidence following their 203-run win at Trent Bridge.
Joe Root and co. know that anything other than a win in the upcoming Test will be nothing less than a failure for them. More than just the result, it's their future in this format which seems at risk. Playing at home, in conditions which favor them, the hosts will face barrage of criticism should anything go wrong for second consecutive match.
As for Virat Kohli's men, they came into the series on the back of a lot of hope and promise, and were backed by many to topple England on their own turf. But all of those hopes were quashed away in the first two Test matches, which included a humiliating innings defeat in the second Test at Lord's. Though, India made a huge statement that they mean business, winning the third Test by a mammoth margin.
The major reason behind India's success in the third Test was much due to their combination, which seemed perfect. They had erred with their selection in the first two matches, but corrected their mistake. On the other hand, the hosts decision to drop Sam Curran at Trent Bridge may well have been a important factor behind their poor display.
Now, ahead of the crucial encounter, the playing XI of the two teams will be under spotlight. Let's take a look at how both of them will line-up on Thursday.
The Indian team management decided to bring in Prithvi Shaw and Hunama Vihari in the squad to bolster their batting options. But it is highly unlikely that either of the two will be given the nod. It would mean for the first time under Kohli's captaincy, India would play the same team for two consecutive matches.
Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul, despite not getting big runs, shall open the batting, and play ahead of the two youngsters. At No.3, Cheteshwar Pujara got runs at Trent Bridge, and proved why he should be the first name in India's Test XI. Kohli, who managed 200 runs in the last match, will play at No.4, and will be followed by his lieutenant Ajinkya Rahane, who finally got amongst the runs.
The wicketkeeper-batsman role will be retained by Rishabh Pant, following the promising display, both with the bat and glove. At No.7, Hardik Pandya enjoyed his best match in his short Test career at Trent Bridge, and he will look to continue on the success.
India's pace bowling trio of Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah are confirmed to play, having bowled beautifully in their side's win. But there is a small doubt over Ravichandran Ashwin's involvement. The off-spinner, if deemed fit, will be in the playing XI. But should he not recover from an injury, Ravindra Jadeja is expected to slot in.
India probable XI: Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin/Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah
The hosts have a lot of headaches when it comes to deciding their playing XI. In the first two matches, they got the combination spot on. But at Trent Bridge, on or two selection errors, especially the exclusion of Sam Curran, backfired.
For the Southampton Test, Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings are expected to open the innings, though, the two are fighting to save their future. At No.3, skipper Joe Root will continue, given the lack of options in the squad for that position.
Now, should Jonny Bairstow recover from his finger injury, he will bat at No.4, and played as a specialist batsman. Though, James Vince could come in his place if he fails to recover. At No.5, the youngster Ollie Pope should come, and it would suit him given he played at this position in the domestic cricket.
Ben Stokes produced a good all-round display at Trent Bridge, and is all but confirmed to start, should he be fit. And the wicketkeeper role will be taken by Jos Buttler, who scored a sublime century in the previous match.
England will have a huge headache when it comes to their bowling department. James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes are confirmed starters. But the English team management must decide between bringing back Curran and making it a four-pace attack, or retaining Adil Rashid, a specialist spinner, or playing Moeen Ali, an all-rounder. This is one position where the hosts will ponder upon a lot.
England probable XI: Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Joe Root (c), Jonny Bairstow, Ollie Pope, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Adil Rashid/Sam Curran/Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, James Anderson