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Opening Conundrum to Root's Patchy Form - Five Weaknesses India Could Target in Southampton

Ashish Pant |Cricketnext | Updated: August 29, 2018, 12:08 PM IST
Opening Conundrum to Root's Patchy Form - Five Weaknesses India Could Target in Southampton

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Following India's capitulation in the opening two Tests, there were very few people who gave the visitors much of a chance in the five-match series. However, Virat Kohli's men proved why they are the No.1 Test side in the world when they bounced back in the third Test with a thumping 203-run victory.

Everything that went amiss for India at Edgbaston and Lord's fell into place at Trent Bridge. The batting order clicked as a unit, the bowlers yet again picked up 20 wickets and the fielders, for a change held on to most chances that came their way.

The larger picture though remains that India still trails the five-match series 2-1. England for once have their backs to the walls and the visitors will hope to put their foot down and square the series at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, the venue for the fourth Test.

We list five potential weaknesses India could potentially target in the England camp.

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England's opening woes

26, 9, 28, 54, 27. England's opening stands so far in the series have been far from ideal with both Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings looking increasingly susceptible against the moving ball.

The opening combination has been a thorn in England's flesh ever since Andrew Strauss' retirement in 2012. But, Cook's form over the past few months has further compounded their miseries.

Undoubtedly the most prolific opener England has seen, Cook in 2018 has managed just 269 runs at a mediocre average of 19.21. He has been nicking deliveries outside the off stump far too often and has often been caught at no-man's land as far as his footwork is concerned.

Ishant Sharma has dismissed the left-hander 11 times in his career, including three times this series alone. The angle with which he delivers the outswingers to left-handers is tailor-made against someone like Cook, and the lanky pacer will be keen on adding to his tally when they meet again in the fourth Test.

Jennings, on the other hand, has also looked rather vulnerable and has repeatedly been dismissed edging to either the wicket-keeper or slips. The Indian pace attack will want the same trend to continue in the fourth game as well.

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Joe Root's patchy form

The England captain started off the Test series in fine fashion with an 80 in Nottingham. But his form seems to have nose-dived since with scores 14, 19, 16 and 13 in the next four innings. Batting at No.3, Root has largely looked settled against the pace but his tendency to go after balls outside off stump with hard hands has often brought about his downfall. Getting exposed to the new ball rather early has also not helped his cause.

Having said that, the Indian pacers certainly seem to have done their homework against the England captain.

A predominantly backfoot player, Root has been caught on the crease far too many times for his liking. In the third Test, he fell to almost identical shots in both innings, nicking good length deliveries outside off straight to second slip. At Lord's, the 27-year-old was trapped right in front of the stumps to an in-dipper by Mohammed Shami.

It has been 24 innings since Root got a century, and India's chances of succeeding in Southampton will rely a lot on how quickly they see the back of the England captain.

Jonny Bairstow

Jonny Bairstow's untimely injury

The wicketkeeper-batsman has by far looked the most confident of the English batsmen so far in the series. In the three Tests, Bairstow has scored 206 runs at 41.20 with two half-centuries and is second on the run-getter list, behind Virat Kohli. Which is why his injury in the third Test, couldn't have come at a worse time for the hosts.

The 28-year-old has a small fracture on his left middle finger which he suffered during India's second innings at Trent Bridge. While the English management has indicated they might play him as a pure batsman, the injury is bound to hamper Bairstow's movement both with the bat and on the field, and the Indians will want to cash in. Someone like a Jasprit Bumrah, who is predominantly a hit-the-deck bowler and gets the ball to move in sharply, will most certainly play on the Englishman's mind.

Over the past few years, Bairstow has been England's glue in the middle-order and him being in form will be key to England's chances. Something which India will take note of.

Adil Rashid

Adil Rashid's ineffectiveness

The last time India were on England shores for a full Test series back in 2014, Moeen Ali with his innocuous off-spinners turned out to be a major surprise package. He returned 19 wickets across five games and ended the series as the joint second-highest wicket-taker.

The Indians, this time though seemed to have learnt from their mistakes. They have handled Adil Rashid's leg-spin far more effectively scoring at every given opportunity. Rashid hasn't had the chance to bowl much so far - 48 overs in the three Tests, but the Indians have been careful to not throw away their wickets away.

He has taken seven wickets but that has come at a rather high economy of 3.89. Rashid has largely looked unconfident with his abilities, and India, like they managed in the third Test, will know they have a few runs on offer if they manage to wither the initial onslaught from the pacers.

Ben Stokes

An unsettled Ben Stokes

It has been a tough time of sorts for the flamboyant English all-rounder. He had a massive say in the first Test at Birmingham picking up four wickets in the second innings to help his side win the Test by 31 runs. However, his overall impact has been less than desirable. He missed the Lord's Test on account of his trial from which he was acquitted, but he hasn't looked the same since.

In the third Test, Stokes could only manage two wickets in the match with a rather high economy rate of 3.60 and 3.40 in the two innings respectively. With the bat as well, while he scored a patient 62 in the second innings he did not look settled at any stage.

The Kohli-led side knows Stokes' importance in the English unit and keeping him quiet will make things much easier for the visitors as they look to make it all square at Southampton.
First Published: August 28, 2018, 8:08 PM IST
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