India v England
Thursday 4 March 04.00
TV: live on Channel 4
India sitting pretty
India are without Jasprit Bumrah, who has pulled out for personal reasons. But if they produce another spinning wicket he is hardly likely to be a big miss.
The first indication of what the surface is expected to do is how many spinners India pick. If they go with Ravi Ashwin and Axar Patel being joined by Washington Sundar again, we can expect a raging turner. But Sundar only bowled four balls in the match so they could conceivably pick an extra batsman offering protection against them being skittled again.
Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav are in line to replace Bumrah. And it is a wonder whether he has decided to sit this one out because he knows he will not be required.
Possible XI Rohit, Gill, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Pant, Ashwin, Sundar, Axar, Ishant, Shami
England could turn to Bess
England took criticism for only picking the one recognised spinner in Jack Leach in the two-day debacle in Ahmedabad in game three. But when Joe Root picked up five wickets for eight it could hardly be called a massive rick.
Do England hold their nerve and ignore Bess again or do they bow to recency bias and outside pressure and go with a man deemed not reliable enough even for a spin-heavy surface?
There could be other changes in personnel. Rory Burns was axed for game three and his opening partner Dom Sibley could join him on the sidelines. Sibley appears paralysed at the crease and they may wish to give Dan Lawrence another go. If Bess returns, one from James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer will make way. Mark Wood is a possibility if England feel Anderson or Broad need a rest. Chris Woakes has gone home.
Possible XI Sibley, Crawley, Bairstow, Root, Stokes, Pope, Foakes, Bess, Broad, Anderson, Leach
What the pitch will do is the big question. Do India produce another surface which breaks up on the first day? Probably not. Do they produce one which breaks up on day three? Possibly. Or, considering avoiding defeat books their Test championship final spot do they pick a road and bat England out of the series? The smart option is the latter.
But India's decision to go with turners - and there's nowt wrong with that by the way - has never looked particularly clever. Despite heavy defeats in the last two Tests, an underprepared surface gives England a much better chance of an upset.
On a fairer, flatter surface India's superior spinners and technical batsmen stamp their authority on the game and England wither.
Early indications from Ahmedabad suggest a wicket which is far more 'together' than the third Test surface. It looks harder, flatter and there are few signs of cracks. But that could change as more grass is taken off in the build-up. Sportsbook's 5/4 that both teams bust 200 in the first dig is very tempting indeed.
Don't expect another rout
This is a test for all concerned. India's common sense. England's technique. Punters' smarts. Anybody who rushes headlong into this contest could come a cropper.
When cricket betting strategy is so heavily influenced by what a pitch will do, it makes it incredibly hard to call this game. If we knew it was going to turn, we would bet England batting first because with an average batting performance under their belt (say 230 or 240) they would be bang in the game. But if it is flat, then we would look to trade the draw price into skinny favourite.
What we do know is that there is no pink ball. And the red ball will not skid on or spit and bite as much. The rational thinking is for a classic India pitch. One which gives an advantage to the team batting first but only breaks up in the third innings.
It is important to remember that game three was the fastest Test since 1935. That's a once-in-a-generation occurrence. It surely won't happen again. India are 1.491/2, England 5.04/1 and the draw 7.4013/2.
Chet Pujara and Virat Kohli, India's Big Two, have been disappointing. But both are likely to be well-backed at 2/1 and 9/2 by punters reckoning they are overdue a win for top India bat in the first-innings. Joe Root, technique and temperament currently streets ahead of his team-mates, appears to have little to beat at 2/1. Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope, who are value on win rates at 9/2 and 10/1, have been having a nightmare.
Don't miss Ed Hawkins's live in-play blog from day one
Best bets for the 4th Test on Cricket...Only Bettor