• England and India will face off in a day-night Test for the first time ever in Ahmedabad
  • England must gamble between a long tail or having a lack of variation in their attack
  • India will boast their strongest attack in the pink ball match, so England may tweak their batting line-up too
AHMEDABAD, INDIA – With the series finely balanced at one Test-all, the most intriguing and important match of the tour provides selection headaches for England’s management yet again.

 




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Heading into the four match Test series against India, English hopes will always have fallen on the day-night Test starting in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. As evidenced in the (relatively short) history of pink ball Tests, the twilight period offers great assistance for seamers, bringing England’s strengths to the fore and quashing any repeat of the ‘pitch’ seen in the previous match in Chennai.

However, any optimism must be caveated with the knowledge that touring sides have traditionally struggled in pink ball Tests: only one side, Sri Lanka, have ever won a day-night Test away from home. England will also have to deal with a strengthened India attack, who welcome back frontline seamer Jasprit Bumrah after sitting out the 2nd Test. He will be partnered by Ishant Sharma, who is sure to want to mark his 100th Test match with a standout performance.

India’s only selection question centres around their fifth bowling option. Bumrah and Ishant will be supported by the off-spin of Ravichandran Ashwin (who is averaging 9.11 against England’s left-handers this series) and left-arm orthodox of Axar Patel, who took seven wickets on debut last time out. India could welcome back all-rounder Hardik Pandya, but are likely to attack with an out-and-out seam bowler ahead of a third spinner – Umesh Yadav is favourite to get the nod ahead of Mohammed Siraj, who bowled just eight overs in India’s opening defeat.

England’s selection dilemmas are far lengthier, and feel more significant given the increased expectation to succeed in a Test match where pace, not spin, will dictate the key sessions in the newly constructed 110,000 seater Motera stadium. In the 10 overseas matches so far since Chris Silverwood became head coach, Stuart Broad and James Anderson have only been paired together twice. Broad had an uncharacteristically quiet Test match on a raging turner in Chennai last week, but with Anderson’s selection certain, Silverwood must be tempted to reunite a partnership which has delivered more than 1000 Test wickets.

 

Collapses on the cards?

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This would leave England with a different problem altogether, though. Considering Dom Bess was dropped on a spinner’s dream wicket in Chennai, it would smack of inconsistency to pick the 23-year-old with an unfamiliar pink ball in Ahmedabad. If Broad and Anderson do get paired together, that would suggest Jofra Archer would be poised to bat at no.8 ahead of his senior pacemen and spinner Jack Leach. Archer’s first-class record with the bat is reasonable at a smidge under 24, but his Test average plummets to single figures (8.00). If everyone’s batting average matched their batting position, England would be in a bit of trouble.

The risk of selecting a long tail is exacerbated in day-night conditions. Of the three innings completed in India’s only ever day-night Test at home, two of those were fewer than 45 overs. This either suggests India’s opponents, Bangladesh, were well below-par, or the pink ball does plenty in the heat and humidity of India. Suggestions have been made online that England’s quicks were swinging it big in practice earlier this week.

Although the bowlers may be itching to get going, the batsmen on both sides will be hoping old wounds in day-night Tests won’t be opened up once again. In England’s last pink ball outing, Joe Root‘s side were bundled out for just 58 in 20.4 overs against New Zealand – at one stage, England were 27-9. India’s plight facing pink will be even fresher in the memory and just as raw, having been humiliated by Australia just two months ago. Despite having amassed a first-innings lead, Virat Kohli‘s men were skittled for just 36 – their lowest ever Test score. If Anderson can replicate both his recent form in Asia (he is averaging 9.91 with the ball in 2021) and performances with the pink ball (having taken 5-43 in the inaugural Ashes day-nighter) this could be another low scoring Test, which in turn guarantees excitement.

If England want to avoid another morale dwindling collapse in pink ball conditions, they will have to get their selection of the top order right. Rohit Sharma‘s brutal yet magical century on day one of the 2nd Test virtually sealed England’s fate before they had even got a chance to bat, and when they did take to the crease, their largely cautious approach left them as sitting ducks for the best off-spinner in the world to make hay. Dom Sibley is clearly no Rohit, and so needs an opening partner that can attack.

Although Zak Crawley fell to an early demise in Sri Lanka because of over aggression to the wrong ball, his career run rate against spin – 3.9 runs per over – is something England selectors must take into consideration now he has recovered from a wrist injury. With Jonny Bairstow also available for selection again, Dan Lawrence will almost certainly drop out. If Crawley’s attacking mindset is something Silverwood wants to harness in order to wrestle back momentum, then the fall guy will be Rory Burns.

Burns has averaged just 24 since the start of last year, with only two half-centuries to his name. Although much is made of his unorthodox setup, he just hasn’t been scoring the level of runs needed at the top of the order in a successful Test team. This would also rid England of one more left-hander for Ashwin to gleefully taunt with his off-spin, with Bairstow averaging an impressive 71.50 off India’s premier tweaker. Expect Bairstow at no.3 with Crawley opening alongside Sibley.

Bairstow’s seniority should take some of the pressure off Root who remains vital to England’s chances of success, with promising showings from Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes two positives England will be looking to build on in Ahmedabad. However, if England’s top three don’t shine under lights, expect India to turn the screw and shut the door on England’s chances for a World Test Championship final berth at Lord’s this June (coincidentally falling on the same week as the government’s proposed end of lockdown – it’s written in the stars, right?!)

The third Test between India and England starts in Ahmedabad Wednesday February 24, with the first ball to be bowled at 9am UK time.


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