On paper, the 3-1 series scoreline is emphatic enough in India’s favour for this fifth Test in Dharamsala to have been rendered inconsequential beyond the collection of World Test Championship (WTC) points. Their victory margins in the last three Tests – 106 runs, 434 runs and five wickets – also convey the impression that this has been business as usual. So accustomed are we to India dominating at home that a record-extending 17th consecutive series victory doesn’t seem to call for any chest-thumping.

Indian players during a practice session ahead of the fifth Test cricket match between India and England(PTI)
Indian players during a practice session ahead of the fifth Test cricket match between India and England(PTI)

But make no mistake about the challenges India have encountered much before the first ball of the series was bowled in Hyderabad. Remember that when India’s squad for the first two Tests was announced in January, they were at near full-strength for another series victory to be perhaps taken for granted.

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But whether it’s Virat Kohli withdrawing for personal reasons, India losing the first Test after a century against all odds by Ollie Pope, Ben Duckett’s blitzkrieg on the second day in Rajkot when he threatened to run away with the game or KL Rahul missing four of the five Tests with injury, India have had plenty of curveballs to negotiate.

That they have done so successfully while also handing out debuts to four players merits some celebration. The final Test at the HPCA Stadium in Dharamsala, quaint but not the quintessential Indian venue given the cold weather around, is another opportunity then for this Indian team to underline its authority and cap off the home season on a high before the annual IPL ritual takes over.

In the customary pre-match presser on Wednesday, India captain Rohit Sharma said the response of his players to the aforementioned challenges has been particularly pleasing.

“Basically it has been a series of comebacks. If we were behind on day two, we have come back well on day three. We have come back from being down in one session to dominating the next. So throughout the series, you must have seen that we have absorbed pressure and put it back on the opposition,” Rohit told reporters. “This has been satisfying, especially with a group of boys who have not been under such pressure situations. Pressure in international cricket is different and pressure in Test cricket is totally different. A lot of players have handled the pressure well and stabilised the team and put it ahead. The last Test was a perfect example where if you see from day one to four, you will get many examples of our good comebacks.”

That India’s players have been put under more pressure than usual in their backyard has certainly made this series a riveting watch. The surfaces in this series have also provided a better balance between bat and ball, which perhaps can’t be said about the last time England toured India in 2021. It’s worth noting that England’s three centuries in these four Tests are the most by any visiting team in India since 2018.

On the eve of the Test, England skipper Ben Stokes described the surface in Dharamsala as a belter. They have understandably chosen to stick with two seamers – James Anderson and Mark Wood – alongside the spin duo of Shoaib Bashir and Tom Hartley.

“Before we even got here, we were thinking of three seamers and one spinner. But turning up yesterday (Tuesday) and seeing the wicket and seeing it again today, going with two seamers and two spinners is probably the right call,” Stokes said on Wednesday. “We thought there will be a bit more grass on the wicket just because of where we are, but overall, the wicket looks like a belter.”

Unlike England who confirmed that Wood for Ollie Robinson is the only change to the playing eleven – even though Bashir has an upset stomach – India’s combination will only be known at toss time. While the nature of the surface suggests that India may persist with two seamers and three spinners, one of whom will be ace off-spinner R Ashwin featuring in his 100th Test, they have a decision to make regarding Rajat Patidar.

The middle-order batter from Madhya Pradesh has endured a wretched run of low scores since making his debut in the second Test in Visakhapatnam – 32, 9, 5, 0, 17 and 0. Judging by Sharma’s assessment, Patidar may just be offered one more opportunity to showcase his worth.

“Patidar, obviously, hasn’t scored as many runs as he would have liked to or we would’ve liked him to. But the guy definitely has got a lot of ability,” Sharma observed. “I’ve seen him play and I’ve seen him play very good cricket. If I watch someone’s batting and like it, I call him a talent player. He’s very new to Test cricket, so we’ve got to give him some more time to really make a judgement on him. He’s got a lot of runs in domestic cricket. He’s lost some opportunities here, but that happens when you’re in the early stage of your career, you’re nervous and trying to think about so many things. That is where I think the team has to back the individual and make sure that there’s no pressure internally on him.”


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