Rajkot: Ben Stokes will earn his 100th Test cap when he leads England against India in the third Test beginning Thursday in Rajkot, with both sides having to contend with the absence of key players.
The five-match series is on a knife-edge at 1-1 after India’s 106-run victory in the second Test in Visakhapatnam followed England’s 28-run win in Hyderabad.
Batsmen Virat Kohli and KL Rahul will be absent for India while England’s senior spinner Jack Leach has been ruled out of the final three matches with a knee injury suffered in the first Test.
Stokes, 32, was lauded for his leadership after England won the series opener in Hyderabad to hand India only their fourth Test loss at home since 2013 and then aggressively chased 399 in Visakhapatnam before falling short.
England have won 14 Tests out of 20 since Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum took the reins with an attacking style dubbed “Bazball”, but one former great thinks the term is overplayed.
“Much of England’s success has been attributed to ‘Bazball’ — the desire to score quickly and tactically rattle the opposition — but this is a misnomer,” former Australia captain Ian Chappell was quoted as saying on Cricinfo.
“What Stokes has really done is set out to achieve victory from ball one by playing aggressive cricket — in all aspects of the game,” he said.
All-rounder Stokes, who is playing in the series as a batsman after recovering from knee surgery, has scored 6,251 runs and taken 197 wickets since his Test debut in 2013.
“To play 100 Tests is an unbelievable achievement,” batsman Ollie Pope, who scored a match-winning 196 in the opening Test, told reporters Tuesday.
“Obviously he’s had his highs and lows but what he’s done since being a captain has been amazing ... He’s probably changed the game in all aspects.”
India will be without their batting great Kohli, who will be unavailable for the rest of the series for “personal reasons”, after having missed the first two Tests.
Batsman Rahul will again miss out having not recovered completely after missing the second Test, but was named in the squad and is expected to be fit for the rest of the series after Rajkot.
“There is a chance for the newcomers to grab the opportunity,” said Indian left-arm spinner Kuldeep Yadav.
“They have done really well in domestic cricket and it’s their time to show what they’ve got,” he said, adding that he did not expect a rank turner for the Rajkot game.
The England squad travelled to Abu Dhabi for a rest and to spend time with family members after the second Test but are already back training in Rajkot.
Anderson, Ashwin milestones
Rohit Sharma’s side started the series with the defeat in Hyderabad after Pope’s brilliant knock turned the game on its head despite India having taken a 190-run first-innings lead.
In Visakhapatnam, India survived some nervy moments during England’s spirited chase before securing the series-levelling win.
India spinner Ravichandran Ashwin needs just one wicket in Rajkot to reach 500 Test dismissals, while England seamer James Anderson needs five more to reach 700 victims, a mark bettered only by spinners Shane Warne (708) and Muttiah Muralitharan (800).
The 42-year-old Anderson will play his 185th Test, if selected, and could be joined in the attack again by young spinners Tom Hartley, Shoaib Bashir and Rehan Ahmed, who have just six caps between them.
England’s spinners, including part-timer Joe Root, have surprisingly stood out so far with 33 wickets compared to their Indian counterparts, who have taken 23.
India’s match-winner in Visakhapatnam was fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah, who rose to the top of the world’s Test bowling ranking after his nine-wicket haul that showcased his reverse swing brilliance.
Yashasvi Jaiswal hit 209 in the first innings and tops the series batting charts on 321 runs, followed by Pope on 243 and England opener Zak Crawley, who has 200.