England vs India: At Trent Bridge there is more than a Test series on the line as questions loom over the five-day game



Some perspective: if England win the current series against India 5-0, as many now fear, India would still remain No1 in the world rankings, and by quite some distance. That is why the prospect of India losing at Trent Bridge in the third Test, and surrendering the series with two games to spare, should strike alarm into any fan of the five-day game, whatever their nationality.

If the outstanding team in the world can travel to a mediocre, mid-ranking side – and England’s recent results justify no other description – and offer up not even a semblance of a contest, then it will be further evidence that Test cricket is hopelessly skewed in favour of the home team, to the point where urgent surgery will be required. The condemnation of India’s faltering batsmen will only get us so far. At some point, we must conclude that it is the game itself that is flawed.

Happily, we are not quite at that point yet.

A win or even a creditable draw in Nottingham would keep India in the series with two good batting tracks at Southampton and The Oval to come, and despite the reputation of Trent Bridge as a seamer’s paradise, history is on India’s side. They have lost just once in their last five visits, a run that has seen some of their best cricket on these shores.

There was the famous 2007 win, courtesy of Zaheer Khan’s immaculate swing bowling. Sachin Tendulkar’s masterful 177 in 1996. Even their heavy 2011 defeat came from a position of strength late on day two, when Stuart Broad’s hat-trick – abetted by India’s refusal to allow DRS – hauled England back into a game that was running away from them.

8 June 1996: Sachin Tendulkar on his way to a century against England with Jack Russell looking on (Getty Images)

And here is the bad news for India: this is a ground where England also tend to rise to the occasion. Broad’s 8-15 against Australia. James Anderson swinging England to victory in 2013. Giles and Hoggard nursing England home in 2005. Atherton and Donald in 1998. Botham’s debut in 1977. England arrive in Nottingham with a record of just one defeat in the last decade – last year’s reverse against South Africa – and an armful of golden memories.

They arrive, too, with a novel selection dilemma. The return of Ben Stokes to the front line after his court case in Bristol presents Joe Root and Trevor Bayliss with a test of loyalty. Do they reinstate Stokes at the earliest possible opportunity? And if so, do they drop the man-of-the-match from Edgbaston, or from Lord’s? Neither Sam Curran nor Chris Woakes merits exclusion, and yet unless England decide to drop Ollie Pope and go in a batsman light, or drop Adil Rashid and play five seamers, one of England’s star performers this series will have to miss out.

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The top order is by no means settled. Keaton Jennings has looked comfortable without ever looking convincing. Alastair Cook has two half-centuries in his last 23 innings. Joe Root has two centuries in 37 innings at No3. If India are to claw their way back into the series, then it will surely be by putting the new ball in the right places and reducing England to 40-3 again.

India will surely tweak their own batting line-up after consecutive scores of 162, 107 and 130. Perhaps the most exciting change would be to replace wicket-keeper Dinesh Karthik with Rishabh Pant, the brilliant 20-year-old Delhi left-hander with a triple-century, a 48-ball Ranji Trophy century and a first-class average of 56 to his name, as well as the highest ever score (128) by a home player in the Indian Premier League. Short and powerful, there is a coiled explosiveness and a limitless ambition to him, the brain and the brawn to change games. Pant could have a similar galvanising effect on this India team that Stokes did in the 2013-14 Ashes: an irresistible glimpse of the future in a stormy present.

With unconventional fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah also poised to recover from injury in time for this game, there remains hope that India can turn their fortunes around. And indeed, all but the most partisan of England fans should be willing them to do so. Test cricket should be a test for both sides, and the current treadmill of home pitches, home conditions and home drubbings helps nobody. The forecast for Nottingham over the next week is mixed: a cocktail of sunshine, cloud and showers. The forecast for Test cricket, meanwhile, is similarly uncertain.

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