Latest Update: What started to be a promising day for England (and Alastair Cook) has turned drastically in favour of the visitors. After a wicket-less second session, Indian pacers broke through at regular wickets in the final session to peg England back, finishing on 198/7.
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Preview: Just like that the English international summer is almost at an end. After four Tests crammed into five weeks, the circus arrives at The Oval for one final hurrah. With the series no longer alive, there is a slight end of term feeling to proceedings in south London, although the impending retirement of Alastair Cook has at least provided a subplot to a game that might otherwise struggle for huge meaning. After a fascinating series that has contained two closely fought contests and two thrashings, there would seem to be very little more that we can discover about either side. For India, it is a case of so near yet so far, and Virat Kohli's men will be left to rue being unable to capitalise when well ahead at Edgbaston and the Ageas Bowl, games they ultimately went on to lose. The search for that high-profile away series win will continue, but the tourists have shown that they are certainly more than just home-track bullies. Their application and determination in fighting back after being humiliated at Lord’s was notable, while they have a pack of fast bowlers that can mix it with the best, and although their batting has looked a little dependant on Kohli, in the context of a very bowler-friendly series things perhaps haven't been quite as bad as they have appeared at times.
England meanwhile reach the climax of the series with arguably more questions to be answered than when they started it. Their battle to find an opening batsman will now have to be expanded to a fight on two fronts, with the need to replace the country’s all-time leading runscorer thrown into the mix for good measure as well. Elsewhere their middle order problems are no closer to being solved – you’d have got good odds at the start of the summer on Moeen Ali being England’s number three in this Test – and until they fix them and the collapses that have practically become a fait accompli, they will continue to be a frustratingly flawed team. England will be unchanged at The Oval, although Jonny Bairstow will take back the gloves from Jos Buttler – a decision that looks at best like being a missed opportunity to ease the burden on arguably the team’s second-best batsman, and at worst like the sort of indulging of a senior player that continues to undermine a lot of what goes on in Joe Root’s side. Root’s allrounder-heavy side remain frustratingly less than the sum of their parts, their ludicrous strength in depth has ultimately been the winning difference between the two teams, but with half of their side best suited to batting six or seven they continue to be very lopsided. India’s team selection for the final Test as ever remains more shrouded in mystery, with there being the possibility of a debut for one or two of the youngsters in their squad. This however currently appears unlikely, although Ravi Jadeja is expected to come in for Ravi Ashwin, the latter carrying an injury and underperforming in the last Test as a result. The tourists may only have pride to play for, but they will be keen to peg things back to 3-2, anything less than that a big disappointment having pushed England hard for much of the series. For England, with the series won, there is less on the line and given their form in previous seasons it would not be a huge surprise if they lost heavily.
However, you sense they will at least try to ensure that they put in some sort of performance to see Cook off in style, while James Anderson is five wickets away from overtaking Glenn McGrath’s record Test haul for a fast bowler. By Tuesday then England will have waved goodbye to international cricket on its shores for another year as well as the stellar career of Cook. That’s all there is left, you’d better drink it in while you can.
India Playing XI: Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah
England Playing XI: Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Moeen Ali, Joe Root (c), Jonny Bairstow (wk), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Adil Rashid, Stuart Broad, James Anderson