India look ready to pass final Test
Cook and co could struggle at the Oval
Sky Sports Cricket, 11am Friday
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”
The famous battle cry of Shakespeare’s Henry V seems fitting as England’s totemic opener Alastair Cook prepares for his last stand as an international player in the final Test against India at the Oval.
After 161 Tests, 12,254 runs and 32 centuries, Cook will walk out into the middle to open the batting for the last time.
Fuss and fanfare is not the understated 33-year-old’s style but after a record-breaking Test career spanning 12 years, many will feel he deserves to go out on top.
Hills go 4-1 that he signs off with a century in either innings at The Oval and 8-1 that he is named man of the match.
Having wrapped up the series by going 3-1 up in Southampton last week, England are 10-11 to score another success over the world’s top-ranked side in south London. India are 12-5 and the draw is available at 5-1.
Few people would begrudge the outgoing Cook one final day in the sun this week but his form with the bat this year inspires little confidence in taking the 5-1 about him topping England’s runscoring charts.
India’s seamers, in particular, have caused Cook and the rest of the England top order a multitude of problems over the course of the series and with a little more luck and application from their own batsmen, Virat Kohli’s tourists could have been heading to The Oval at least level in the series.
They had the first Test at Edgbaston at their mercy with England 87-7 in their second innings before Sam Curran’s counter-attacking 63 turned the tide.
And at the Rose Bowl last week they had England 86-6 for in their first innings before Curran and Ali dragged the hosts to 246 all out.
They need someone to stick with the mercurial Kohli, as Chesteshwar Pujara did in Southampton, and on the usually batsmen-friendly pitches in Surrey that should be easier to achieve than at venues when Jimmy Anderson is swinging the ball around corners.
If they can then what has gone before in the series with the ball gives them a fine chance of spoiling Cook’s farewell party.
Kohli has a balanced attack at his disposal. Mohammed Shami provides control and swing, Ishant Sharma hits the deck hard, Jadeja should pose questions with his left-arm spin while Jasprit Bumrah offers Kohli an X factor.
The unconventional seamer taken 11 wickets in two Test since coming into the side at Trent Bridge and England’s top order do not appear to have got to grips with his unique style.
Bumrah doesn’t have a textbook action but he is mightily effective and could torment the hosts’ batsmen again.
Jonny Bairstow will keep wicket for England after recovering from a broken finger sustained in the third Test. Bairstow played as specialist batsman at the Rose Bowl last week but will replace stand-in Jos Buttler behind the stumps. Moeen Ali will continue at number three after moving up to that position in the second innings of the fourth Test. Captain Joe Root moves back to number four in an unchanged England side.
India are set to bolster their batting unit with Hanuma Vihari replacing all-rounder Hardik Pandya. Ravi Ashwin has been battling a hip injury over the summer and could be rested with Ravindra Jadeja deputising.
All five days of the final Test look set fair with temperatures around 21C.
2pts 12-5 Betfair
J Bumrah top India wicket-taker
2pts 3-1 general
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