England v India
Wednesday 25 August 11.00
TV: Live on Sky Sports
England searching for formula
English cricket is gripped by self-loathing at the moment, whether that's the bleak performances of the Test match team or the apparent popularity of a new tournament which has succeeded in cannibalising the domestic game.
The Hundred provides another star turn as England look to rescue red-ball form which threaten the first back-to-back home summer series defeats since 1986. Dawid Malan is set to come in at No 3. Technically Malan can be a little shaky but there can be no doubt that he has the temperament to go well.
Malan has a Test century and five fifties to his name. That ton, an epic 140 in Perth, was only six Tess ago in Malan's career. England may have discarded him too soon. Haseeb Hameed looks set to open with Rory Burns with Dominic Sibley axed. Ollie Pope has been recalled but Jonny Bairstow may be unmovable.
With the ball, Mark Wood's shoulder injury gives Saqib Mahmood a great chance of a Test debut. It means England are without Wood, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes and Ollly Stone. They're into third- and fourth-best pace picks. Bizarrely, Jack Leach has been axed altogether so Moeen Ali has no competition. Sam Curran's place as the bowling all-rounder is in jeopardy from Craig Overton.
Probable XI Burns, Hameed, Malan, Root, Bairstow, Buttler, Moeen, C Overton, Robinson, Anderson, Mahmood
It can be a challenge to ignore the noise surrounding England victories. Harder still to stick fingers in ears to the cacophony that follows a defeat. It is best to try to focus on India's bowling brilliance after going 1-0 up at Lord's.
They started the day in danger of defeat but showed true grit to fight back and then dominate, winning by 151 runs. Despite plenty of options to keep things fresh, it would be a surprise if they did not stick with the same XI.
The big question is whether to recall Ravi Ashwin. Despite India's tail producing a remarkable rearguard to set up the win at HQ, if they are being totally frank India may reckon they got away with one. Pairing Ashwin and Jadeja adds solidity to their batting. And it may need it. It shouldn't be forgotten that Chet Pujara and Virat Kohli are taking their time getting going.
In Leeds, teams rarely need four fast-bowling options. It would be harsh on whoever lost out but the visitors look much better balanced with Ashwin.
Possible XI Rohit, Rahul, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Pant, Jadeja, Ashwin, Shami, Bumrah, SIraj
The first thing to remember about Headingley is that it is England's second least successful home ground, despite its reputation for seam and swing. On win-loss ratio they only do worse at Trent Bridge. Who says the English have an advantage when the ball bends?
The last Test played there was one for the ages. It was the Ben Stokes Test. England chased an improbable 359 in the fourth after Australia had bowled them out for just 67 in the first innings. The first-innings scores in the last eight ten Tests read (most recent first, 1-2 denote match won batting first or second) read: 179-2/174-2/258-2/298-1/350-1/257-1/354-1/419-d.
What to make of that? Well, the rule in Leeds is if the sun is out, batsmen make hay. If not, watch out. The surface also holds up very well and the fourth-innings average is a massive 18.8 runs higher than the first. Indeed, the average number of balls needed per wicket in the first dig is 28 compared to 42 in the fourth.
No rain is forecast for the five days. A cloudy start is expected on the first morning. We would expect the toss winner to have a bowl. Even if the side batting first struggles, they should still be in the hunt and take it to the death. A score of 250 or 260 could ve very good.
Market could flip
England are 2.727/4, India 2.226/5 and the draw is 5.309/2. On one rationale alone India are value: England are a one-man team and his name is Joe Root.
If India can get Root cheaply then they are home and hosed. But can they? Root seems to be drawing superhuman strength from his team-mates' chronic low confidence.
With pitch and weather conditions likely making for a topsy-turvy game, we expect both teams to trade odds-on favourites. But as we said earlier, India are a cut above and if you feel you have to take what is a decent price pre-toss, go for it. We will wait in-play for at least the market to flip.
With the pitch staying true, India may well come from behind in first-innings to snatch it. And we could see them going after 300-320 for a dramatic win in the fourth.
Strong Yorkshire, strong England? Root has been boosted to 17/10 by Sportsbook for top England bat in the first-innings on the basis of an improbable third-straight success. Malan catches the eye at 11/2 on his home ground. In his only first-class appearance this season he scored 199 at Headingley. Bairstow, who averages a shade under 50, is 6/1. Craig Overton is not a 66/1 chance and actually has two wins to his name in a stunted England career.
For India, Kohli is once again bumped up to 13/5. But with bowlers to the fore in the first-innings we are tempted by Rishabh Pant at 11/2, Jadeja at 20s and Ashwin at 33s.
England first-innings runs analysis and why Anderson struggles in Leeds
How to bet in-play on the third Test