Ed Hawkins previews the dead rubber last game of the series at The Oval from Friday and expects more of the same...
"What we will do is wait for the toss to see who bats first – and back them. The pitch, and insipid batting, should do the rest"
England v India
Friday 7 September, 11:00
Live on Sky Sports
England still have problems
England have the series won with a game to spare. But there should be little rejoicing. They seem to have ended the series with more problems than they started and are once again grateful for a touring team being unskilled in combatting seam and swing.
The retirement of Alastair Cook is a significant blow. They now need to find two new opening batsmen. It is an onerous task as they are yet to replace Andrew Strauss and he quit six years ago.
Keaton Jennings is picked again despite averaging 18 in the series. It is, frankly, bizarre that England are not using the last Test of the summer to audition new recruits in the slot.
Ollie Pope might get another go in the middle-order but who will be dropped? Ben Stokes? Jonny Bairstow? Moeen Ali? The most probable fall guy is Adil Rashid. He has not been worth the hassle and England will still have five bowlers to work with.
Chris Woakes also gets a recall to the squad but if he were to play Stuart Broad or James Anderson would have to be rested. It's not unlikely considering nothing is on the game.
India too reliant on Kohli
India's batting was exposed again at the Ageas Bowl. Likewise their position as the No 1 team in the world. Do us a favour. If they can't force a series-levelling win from first-innings scores of 167 for seven and 142 for two then they don't deserve such vaunted status.
Virat Kohli has failed to get support throughout the series and late shows from Chet Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane are precisely that. Openers KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan have had miserable times.
With the ball, though, they have been excellent. Ishant Sharma has been a constant threat. Likewise Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami. Hardik Pandya has been better than expected, too.
Ravi Ashwin looked out of sorts in Southampton though and it may transpire that he has not fully recovered from a niggle. Ravi Jadeja stands by. Still, India would be well served by picking the same XI. They need consistency in all facets.
The Oval is no road
Last summer England posted 353 in the first dig against South Africa. It was 10 runs fewer than the average in the 11 previous Tests. Still, it is worth repeating that it is not the road its reputation would have us believe. Bowlers are bang in the game here and backing 350 or more would have cost you six times in the last 13 first digs. England made 328 against Pakistan in defeat in 2017, they were rolled for 149 by Australia in 2016 and India managed only 148 the year before. In 2010 England totalled 233 v Pakistan, South Africa scored 194 in 2008 and England made 173 against Pakistan in 2006. Runs are not guaranteed.
Toss key as usual
Throughout this series we have bemoaned the standard of batting. Both teams have, frankly, been hopeless against seam or swing. And the toss has been important. A wearing pitch in the fourth innings has made a difference.
Prior to the fourth Test we argued that India were the value pre-toss because the game would be won by whoever got the better of the conditions. That proved to be England who were thankful for holey techniques on a holey surface at the last.
So we cannot possibly make a case for England at 1.9420/21. India are 3.185/40, the sort of price they have been throughout. But we cannot blindly back them here because they have let us down too often.
What we will do is wait for the toss to see who bats first - and back them. The pitch, and insipid batting, should do the rest.
India lost a dead rubber at The Oval by an innings four years ago. They batted first. That's a bit of a worry and we hope they turn up and play with more pride this time.
Ignore Cook for top bat
Cook will be all the rage for top runscorer bettors in the first innings. Don't fall for it. There's a reason he has quit. He's no longer good enough. The 11/2 that Betfair Sportsbook offer should be swerved. Joe Root's form is nowhere near good enough to justify prices of 3/1 although he did make 149 not out at the ground against India in 2014. Pope at 9/1 could be worth a nibble, likewise Bairstow at 5s.
A Shaw thing?
Kohli is 23/10 for top-bat honours for India in the first dig. Next best are Pujara and Rahane at 3/1 and 5/1 respectively with Betfair Sportsbook. Pujara's century last time out may mean Kohli is worth taking on. Privthi Shaw, the batting wunderkind, is 5/1 and it is possible that he comes in for Rahul.
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l
Back side batting first (2pts)