Of the two teams who will contend the Nagpur Test at this time tomorrow, one will be a lot happier than the other. England go into the Test on the back of two comfortable wins which retained the Pataudi Trophy. They need only a draw to secure the series, but a result seems a lot more likely. There is a lot less information on the pitch than there was before the Calcutta Test, but given how much of the information on the Calcutta Test was inaccurate that may be a good thing. Most likely it will be a result wicket with India needing to win to level the series, but it might be closer to the sort of result wicket we saw in Calcutta than Mumbai.
The type of wicket has not mattered much in the first three Tests, however. In all three cases one team has comprehensively outplayed the other. After the batting collapse to which we had become accustomed in Ahmedabad, England have looked much the better side and it has forced India into a pair of changes for the last Test. Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan have both been dropped and been replaced by Ravindra Jadeja and Parvinder Awana respectively. It is hard to blame India for deciding to ring the changes after two below par performances on the trot, but their problems go a lot deeper than those two players. Jadeja looks like a step up from Singh, if nothing else his recent triple centuries show that he does have the wherewithal to occupy the crease, something that has been conspicuous by its absence from a lot of the Indian middle order. Awana has also had a good domestic season, but he actually played against England once already. He was part of the India A side who England faced at the start of the tour and took 0-60 off twelve overs, the same figures that got Stuart Broad dropped for the Calcutta Test.
I expect India will have only those two changes to the XI that played in Calcutta, but there have been demands for many more and there is still the chance that Ravichandran Ashwin will miss out now that Piyush Chawla has been added to the squad. Despite being India’s lone resistance with the bat in the last Test, he is primarily a bowler and had a terrible match, and indeed series, with the ball. With India needing to win the Test and therefore needing to take wickets I would suggest that they drop him except for the fact that Chawla does not like being any sort of improvement; he has a first class average this year of almost fifty.
England, by contrast, can justifiably select the same XI as they did in Calcutta. I still want a fifth bowler and once again there were periods of the last Test when four bowlers simply did not look like enough, but that is very unlikely to happen and in any case the XI who played in Calcutta did an excellent job. England will not have been happy to lose three quick wickets in the second innings, but it did at least give Ian Bell some time at the crease and he made the most of it. He looked utterly fluent in steadying the ship and guiding England to victory. Despite some suggestions after the first innings, there should be no suggestion of dropping him.
India could certainly come back to level the series in Nagpur. They have failed to make the most of winning the toss twice in a row, but if they win the toss again and do make the most of it for once then England will be in some trouble. England are probably favourites; those are both big ‘ifs’, of course, and I don’t think England will look even at a changed Indian XI with a lot of fear. We also don’t yet know whether India will even be up for the fight. And if England win the toss and bat sensibly again then India are all but out of the series. But England must maintain their intensity in the way they did at Sydney during the last Ashes. Now is not the time to let things slip.