The spectacular newly refurbished Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera with the highest capacity for a cricket stadium in the world will host one of the most important matches for India at home in their recent Test history. With the series tied at 1-1 there is everything to play for for both the teams when the third Test starts in Ahmedabad from Wednesday. The added incentive of a place alongside New Zealand in the final of the World Test Championship in June only adds more spice to an encounter which already has very high stakes.
The Day and Night Pink Ball Test offers the best chance for England to not only compete but cause a big upset. Even if the patch of green is removed on the day of the match there is always something in the pitch for the fast bowlers with the Pink Ball, especially before the lights come on in the twilight period. The visitors have the bowlers to inflict serious damage on the home team in the Test - James Anderson is a master of reverse and conventional swing as he showcases in the first Test in Chennai. Jofra Archer has the speed and a mean bouncer which can cause a lot of problems to the Indian batsmen under lights.
Joe Root will again be the pivot around which the batting will revolve for England. He has an aggregate of 881 runs in just 8 matches in India at an average of 58.73 including two hundreds and five fifties. A big performance is needed by at least one other batsman in the top 4. Dom Sibley displayed all the ingredients of a fine Test batsman during his 87 in Chennai but has had three failures in the series thereafter. He will be the ideal partner for Root at the top of the order. Zak Crawley might replace Rory Burns as the second opener while there is also a strong likelihood of wicket-keeper batsman Jonny Bairstow coming in for Dan Lawrence at number 3.
Lawrence hasn’t impressed in his four outings in the series registering two single-digit scores. Burns has got starts in a couple of innings but has also been dismissed for a duck in the other two. Crawley was bamboozled by the Sri Lankan spinners in Galle registering scores of 9, 8, 5 and 13 but is considered to be one of England’s most promising batsmen. Bairstow was in decent form in Sri Lanka and has the ability to score quick runs changing the tempo of the match - his contribution can be invaluable especially in tough conditions for batting in a low scoring match. Ben Stokes will be the other big player in the match. Not only does he have the ability to change the course of the match with his bat but can also be handy with his fast-medium accurate bowling in the Day and Night encounter.
India does not have great memories of their last Pink Ball Test in Adelaide. But conditions will be different in Motera. It is expected to be the first Day and Night Test with a Pink Ball with the wicket made to suit spinners. The only thing the home team has to be mindful is the dew. That could reduce the effect of their two spinners - R Ashwin and Axar Patel - of course assuming India plays the left-arm spinner after his impressive debut in Chennai.
While it will be interesting to see how much purchase the Indian spin pair gets out of the Motera wicket with the Pink Ball under lights, India’s trump card in this match could actually be their third seamer - Umesh Yadav. Yadav has pace and accuracy and can be a handful in even slightly helpful conditions in Ahmedabad. Umesh has been amongst the best fast bowlers in the world since 2018. During this period he has bagged 49 wickets in 12 Tests at an average of 19.71. His strike rate of 35.1 is the best in the world amongst all fast bowlers in this time-frame. Jasprit Bumrah will also make a comeback after being rested in the second Test in Chennai.
The batting looks sorted with the top 5 all getting some runs under their belt. Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill hold the key at the top of the order. They have the ability to score a quick fifty even in difficult conditions which can set the course for the rest of the innings. Rishabh Pant will also play a crucial role with the bat down the order.
India cannot afford to lose the Test - not only would that close the doors for a series win but also rule them out of the final of the World Test Championship at Lord’s in June.
Toss, Dew and Pitch
The pitch is expected to assist the spinners more than any wicket ever has in a Day and Night encounter. On a dry wicket the Pink Ball can get roughed up sooner than the red cherry and go out of shape. This will be a worry for the fast bowlers. The team winning the toss will definitely want to bat first and put up a big score. It will get very difficult to bat on Day 4 and Day 5.
However, the dew in the evening session throws up an interesting challenge for both the teams. It may negate reverse swing as the ball gets wet which will test the skills of James Anderson and co. On the other hand the Indian spinners may not be able to grip a wet ball under lights reducing their impact in the final session of play. It will be fascinating to see how both the teams cope with these challenges.
WHAT: India vs England, 3rd Test
WHEN: February 24-28, 2:30 PM IST
WHERE: Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera, Ahmedabad
TELECAST: Star Sports NetworkLIVE
STREAMING: Disney + Hotstar
India Team News
India are likely to make two changes to the XI that played the second Test in Chennai. Bumrah will come in for Kuldeep Yadav - the latter had the least impact amongst the three Indian spinners in Chennai. The other likely change is the inclusion of Umesh Yadav in place of Mohammed Siraj. Umesh brings in that extra pace and zeal and sting to the attack especially with the Pink Ball. He also has more experience and has been brilliant in the last three years.
Ishant Sharma will be playing his 100th Test and does not need any extra motivation to put in an inspirational performance for India. His career completely transformed since 2014 and he has been one of the premier fast bowlers in the world in Test cricket in the last few years.
Rishabh Pant’s form, the return of Ashwin the batsman and the inclusion of Axar Patel means that India can afford to play only five specialist batsmen even if the conditions offer some help to the English seamers.
Predicted XI: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wk), R Ashwin, Axar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah
England Team News
England can make up to four changes for this Test. Zak Crawley might replace Rory Burns at the top of the order and Jonny Bairstow may play as a specialist batsmen at number 3 in place of Dan Lawrence. James Anderson will definitely replace Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer should be in for Moeen Ali.
Predicted XI: Zak Crawley, Dom Sibley, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root (capt), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Ben Foakes (wk), Jofra Archer, Olly Stone, Jack Leach, James Anderson
Head to Head:
Last five Tests: England 3, India 2.
India: WTC is Like World Cup for me, Want to Help Team Qualify for Final - Ishant Sharma who would be playing his 100th Test in Ahmedabad
England: I think it will play into our hands. We have grown up with those conditions, trying to play the ball late in seaming conditions, so you would say we would be more adept at it than the Indians - Zak Crawley on playing with the Pink Ball in Ahmedabad