Ed Hawkins previews game four from Southampton on Thursday with two batting line-ups looking shaky...
"The key phrases are ‘best of conditions’ and ‘as bad as each other’. A toss of a coin, no? So it has to be the biggest odds of the two. No question"
England v India
Thursday August 30 11.00
TV: live on Sky Sports
England shuffling pack
England have injury concerns over two key players. Jonny Bairstow, the wicketkeeper, has a finger injury and Chris Woakes a quad niggle.
Bairstow is expected to be fit but as a batsman only. Jos Buttler will take the gloves. Woakes, who produced a man of the match performance in the second Test at Lord's, is struggling.
Still, Sam Curran stands by. It is hard to argue that England would be demonstrably weaker if he plays. Curran picked up the match gong for his heroics in the first Test.
Fitness issues are the least of England's problems. The form of Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings is a major worry short-term and long. Ollie Pope could do with some runs, too, and there is talk about a shuffle in the order to make him feel more at home, possibly to No 6.
Moeen Ali, seemingly in the form of his life in the Championship, is an option as a second spinner. Or maybe as first choice. England might need batting length. They have every right to be nervous.
Resurgent India find a formula
India are back in the series following an impressive victory at Trent Bridge by a monumental 203 runs. It breathed life into a series which was beginning to resemble an asthmatic yomping up Snowden.
What will have pleased India most was Ajinkya Rahane's first-innings half-century. Finally someone stuck around with Virat Kohli to offer support. Their dovetailing was the game. Kudos, too to Hardik Pandya. He took five first-innings wickets just when he looked like a waste of space.
Jasprit Bumrah took five himself in the final innings and alongside Ishant Sharma India appear to have a more threatening new-ball attack. They really should stick to the same XI for this one despite sending Murali Vijay and Kuldeep Yadav home. Prithvi Shaw, a batting sensation, is surely in the camp to watch and learn.
Wicket green at the moment
The wicket has been reported to be very grassy and lush. Whether it stays that way remains to be seen. In Championship cricket this season, the bat and ball have been engaged in a fair battle. There has been two draws in five. Earlier this month Hampshire were a run short of 400 in the third innings before Liam Dawson and Kyle Abbott combined to bowl out Nottinghamshire for a big win.
There have been only two Tests played at the Ageas Bowl. The last was four years ago and India got a fearful beating after England piled on 569.
Almost too close to call
Before Trent Bridge our preview stated that India absolutely had to bat first (due to a sizeable toss bias) or the series was deader than a do-do. For the first time in the contest India got the better of the conditions.
It is unfortunate, then, in the absence of a toss bias in Southampton, that working out who will get the best this time around is, frankly, tricky. The weather forecast suggests overcast conditions on day one and bright sun on day two. A bowl first situation, then?
It would not be a surprise if either skip made the call, not least because both batting line-ups are shaky in the extreme when the ball starts to do something. England and India are as bad as each other in that regard.
England, always prone to a stinker, might have got it out of their system and could be considered value at [2.02] while it is perhaps tough to take on India at decreased odds at [2.9]. The draw is [6.0].
Still, the key phrases are 'best of conditions' and 'as bad as each other'. A toss of a coin, no? So it has to be the biggest odds of the two. No question.
Hitters ones to watch
Garry Balance and Ian Bell made 150s apiece in that India Test four years ago so there is no ground form to go on for top England runscorer in the first dig. Joe Root and Cook got half-centuries in the second, though. Root is 11/4 and Cook 4/1 with Betfair Sportsbook. The blasters lower down might appeal here. Ben Stokes and Buttler are 6/1 and 7/1 respectively.
A rival to Kohli?
Rahane knuckled down and showed some technique so the 6/1 from Betfair Sportsbook about him top scoring for India in the first innings catches the eye. It would be remiss not to nod to the possibility that India could be five or six down for very litt,e though. So Hardik Pandya at 14s and Ravi Ashwin 25s excite.
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