2pts James Anderson top England first-innings bowler at 5/2 (General)
2pts Ajinkya Rahane to make a first-innings fifty at 7/4 (General)
1pt Ajinkya Rahane to make a first-innings century at 9/1 (Sky Bet)
Just like England’s think-tank, bettors have a great deal to consider when trying to formulate plans for the third Test which begins in Ahmedabad on Wednesday.
Having spent the first two Tests of the series toiling away in Chennai, battling spin-friendly bowling surfaces and an SG red ball that offered little in the way of conventional swing and a seam that was virtually destroyed by abrasive conditions, it could be all change at the Motera Stadium.
Firstly, the third instalment of the series is a day-night Test – one England would have surely identified as a must-win match when the tour schedule was first released – while the pink SG ball England will themselves be using for the first time has a seam which is hand-stitched with a black thread that is made from a mixture of synthetics and linen. The aim being to produce a pink ball that is more durable than its Kookaburra competitor – for all that ball is renowned for helping the fast bowlers – while a generous helping of lacquer added to the product in order to improve visibility at night generally aids swing bowlers.
Finally, the first sighting of the pitch in Ahmedabad revealed a grassy surface sitting in the centre of a lush, green square and accompanying outfield. Think Lord’s in April, minus the dark clouds and mass of MCC ties and trilbies.
Of course, India are sure to demand the majority of that grass is burnt off the pitch by Wednesday, but they might not be able to do anything about the lush outfield and certainly not about the ball which will have JAMES ANDERSON, in particular, chomping at the bit.
Plenty was made of Anderson’s omission from England’s starting XI for the second Test – most of it nonsense – after his impressive showing in the opening match of the series, but Chris Silverwood and Joe Root made the right call on this one: start the series with your trump card and then have him primed and ready for the day-night encounter. That is exactly what has happened and at 38 years of age, flogging Anderson to death in the subcontinent in an Ashes year makes little sense.
How England, and Anderson and Stuart Broad, pick their battles from now on could go a long way to defining the success of this team in the next 12 months.
Still, given the position of the series, don’t discount the very real possibility of Anderson and Broad renewing their opening bowling partnership for the first time since the summer, with Jofra Archer reportedly in line for a recall, too, having recovered from the elbow niggle that kept him out of the second Test.
That means England might be very tempted to play three frontline quicks, with Jack Leach as the sole spinner and Ben Stokes as the fifth bowler. That would certainly be the preferred option for Root, who will rightly have more faith in his tried and tested battery of pace bowlers, and given the fact he is now shorn of spin options following Moeen Ali’s return to England. With all that in mind, a recall for Chris Woakes, who is England’s best swing bowler after Anderson and whose batting would help fill the void left by Moeen, is not out of the question.
Were that to be the case, 5/1 about the Warwickshire man in the top England first-innings bowler would have to be considered, for all it would be a huge call to throw Woakes back into the lion’s den for such a crucial game having played no cricket of any type since November.
Instead, I’ll play it safe with Anderson who proved in Chennai that he is always a threat, even when conditions aren’t in his favour, and can be relied upon to make use of whatever there is to be gleaned from the surface or atmospherics, should England happen to be bowling when the floodlights come into effect.
Of Anderson’s 611 Test wickets, 115 have now come against India, and 31 of them in India where conditions have rarely been in his favour. The fact his bowling average of 30.09 in India sits favourably with many of his fast-bowling contemporaries from the current era demonstrates the great improvement he has made in Asia in recent years.
In his last two Test in the subcontinent – in Galle and Chennai – Anderson has claimed 11 wickets for only 109 runs and crucially for the purposes of this week, his record in the three day-night Tests he has featured in is even more impressive. In those three matches, Anderson has taken 14 wickets at 17.85.
While I don’t think India will allow conditions at the Motera Stadium to be anything like they were for India’s last day-night affair against Bangladesh at Eden Gardens – when seamers Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav claimed 19 wickets between them – the quicks are most certainly going to have a much greater role to play here than they did in the second Test.
As such, England’s biggest decision will be whether to gamble on seam and go with three frontline quicks, plus Stokes and Leach, or recall Dom Bess in the expectation that spin will come into play as the match wears on.
That will be a call – and a big one at that – to be made nearer the time, but barring accidents, Anderson is certain to take the field and 5/2 for him to lead the way for England in the first innings looks the solid play.
As mentioned in my second Test preview, the aforementioned Leach is not to be underestimated should, as expected, spin become a greater factor the longer the match goes on. Once again, the Somerset man is sure to have a big role to play in the second innings.
Often unheralded, Leach has taken 12 wickets in the series already – eight in the second innings – with India’s collection of right-handed batsmen playing to his strengths and ensuring Root requires him to get through the plenty of overs.
While Leach has proven easier for India to keep quiet in the first innings, that has been more of a challenge second time around as the pitches begin to offer more spin, and I’ll be watching the second innings bowler markets with interest.
In the first innings, with the possibility of the wicket starting with enough live grass on it to keep the seamers very interested, Anderson should be England's main weapon, but I don’t think we’ll see too much reverse swing this week, which might mean the seamers are easier to nullify in the second innings as Leach and Ravichandran Ashwin take over the mantle.
There won’t be any value in betting Ashwin, but Leach remains underrated when conditions turn in his favour and I’ll be happy to side with him if England are bowling on days four or five.
The prospect of lateral movement, at least early in the match, definitely narrows the gap between these two sides and there is a case to be made for England to win the match at 16/5.
I certainly think their much-maligned opening pair of Rory Burns and Dom Sibley would be happier facing seam early in their innings than starting against spin, and England’s own fast bowlers have always been different animals when able to get the ball to move laterally.
The problem is, this India team now boasts a handy pack of pacers within its own ranks with the excellent Jasprit Bumrah is sure to be raring to go having been rested last week in preparation for this third Test. With Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Siraj for company, along with the fit-again Umesh Yadav, India will believe they can play England at their own game, should they need to.
I don’t believe conditions will be that extreme, but the very real possibility that the pink ball moves around under lights, coupled with a pitch that ought to at least keep the seamers in the contest, will give the tourists more hope than they would have if facing the sort of surface that found them out in the second Test.
In such conditions, England’s batting – Root apart – looks devoid of the skills or plans to negotiate high-class spin for long periods. The opening pair of Burns and Sibley just don’t use their feet enough, while Ollie Pope endured a poor game last week having shaped so well on his return in the first Test. With Stokes struggling against Ashwin, in particular, and Dan Lawrence expected to make way for Jonny Bairstow, England will be desperate for conditions that play more to their strengths this week.
If they do, the visitors might just have a puncher’s chance.
Returning to the submarkets, I was thrilled to see pre-series selection Rohit Sharma strike a brilliant century in the second Test to move himself to the top of India’s runs chart. Whether he can stay there remains to be seen, with a host of high-quality batsmen in pursuit.
Having put up Cheteshwar Pujara in the second Test, I was equally pained to see him throw away a good start in the first innings having appeared well-set, and I’m happy to take a watching brief on him this time given his performances have never been quite as strong when the ball has moved sideways.
On the contrary, AJINKYA RAHANE has always been a reliable figure in the face of a high-quality seam bowling and hundreds in England and New Zealand, as well as an average in excess of 50 in South Africa, illustrates that point.
Rahane’s ability to play the ball late with soft hands is the cornerstone of his game against lateral movement and his brilliant 103 on a spicy pitch at Lord’s in 2014 was a fine example of his skills in such conditions.
Rahane was at it again when making a century in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG recently and first-innings 67 in the second Test of this series suggests he remains in good touch.
I wouldn’t put anyone off having a spin on him in the top India first-innings batsman market at 7/1, but Kohli is an obvious threat and I’ll be going solo on this one.
With Sky Bet offering 7/4 about Rahane making a first-innings fifty, and 9/1 for him to convert to three figures, I suggest splitting your stakes accordingly.
Posted at 1920 GMT on 21/02/21
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