Ashwin to impress again
Our Dave Tickner brings you his betting preview for the final Test between India and England.
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January 1977. Apple Computer Company is incorporated. Jimmy Carter succeeds Gerald Ford as US president. EMI sacks the Sex Pistols. Orlando Bloom is born. And England win successive Test matches in India.
Several generations of iPhone and many US presidents and actors and controversial punk bands later, England have finally repeated that back-to-back feat and now stand on the brink of a truly stunning achievement; Test series victory in India.
They haven't done that since 1984/85. No touring side has done it since the great 2004 Australians - who were also the last visiting team to win two Tests in a series in India. Since 2007, only South Africa (twice) have denied India victory on home soil - now the very least England can achieve having taken a 2-1 lead with one match to play.
England's second-Test victory in Mumbai was hailed as among their very best ever overseas. Last week in Kolkata they arguably surpassed it. The Mumbai Test was in the balance after the first day; England took an early control in Kolkata that they never relinquished. In Mumbai, England were indebted to four staggering individual performances from Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen with the bat, and Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar with the ball; Kolkata was a more all-round performance with all four bowlers making key contributions and the top four batsmen all passing 50. Even the returning Ian Bell justified his recall with the collapse-assisting run out of Pujara and 28 not out to steer England home when they made a minor mess of their fourth-innings chase.
India, though, were wretched. They lacked discipline with both bat and ball and were a lazy, uninterested shambling embarrassment in the field.
I was genuinely interested to see how the layers would price up this final Test, as in truth I had no clue. They still can't quite bring themselves to make England favourites despite the evidence of the last two games, and as I still can't quite back them at 9/4, perhaps that's fair enough.
To add to the confusion caused by the unexpected events of the series to date and the rumblings about the pitches, we head for Thursday's final Test to a ground hosting only its fourth match.
India have won two and lost one, but that was a thrashing as they went down by an innings to South Africa in 2010.
Early reports suggest this pitch has the bounce of Mumbai if not the sharp spin but, in truth, at the moment any pitch should favour England. The nagging doubt is that India - with the series on the line - surely can't be as poor as they have been for the last Test-and-a-half.
Let's leave such uncertainty and stick to what we do know: Ravichandran Ashwin has been one of India's best batsmen in this series.
He may be batting number eight, but only Cheteshwar Pujara stands above him in the India series batting averages. Only Cook, Pujara, Pietersen and Virender Sehwag have more than his 214 runs in the series.
This tells you a couple of things. First, it highlights one of the many reasons England are winning this series with India's top-order batting crumbling all too often. Second, it shows very few batsmen on either side have really shone. But third, it tells you that Ashwin can bat.
He started out as a top-order batsman, racking up some impressive stats in age-group cricket, before focusing on his unorthodox spin bowling.
In this series, that seems to have rather reversed. For while England, a couple of spells apart, have found his bowling largely non-threatening, he has more than once proved difficult to dislodge with the bat in his hand.
Commentators have compared his technique to that of recently-retired great VVS Laxman, and it's not as facetious as it sounds. Ashwin's driving and the way he stands tall to flick-pull the quick bowlers are very reminiscent of VVS, and he has the sound technique of someone who has batted for long, long periods (albeit at a standard lower than this).
Watching him in this series, if you were told he was a number five or six batsman then you would have seen nothing to disavow you of that notion. His dizzying spot in India's averages is no fluke. He hasn't been dismissed for a single-figure score in the series to date. He has made two counter-punching half-centuries of genuine class and - most importantly for us - has in his five innings to date been India's leading runscorer once and second twice.
While his price in the top batsman market reflects his place in the batting order, it doesn't reflect his efforts in this series.
I mentioned the potential for bounce in this pitch earlier, and that brings us to our second selection. Monty Panesar has been superb in both victories since he was overlooked in Ahmedabad and should be an outright favourite in the top England bowler market.
He's led the wickets column in three of the four innings since his recall - including both first innings - and is at his most effective when the ball is bouncing as well as turning.