Southampton (England), July 26 :
India should have the upper hand in the third Test against England, starting here Sunday, after winning the second Test to take a one-nil lead in the five-match series.
After the way the Indians dominated the Lord’s Test the mood is upbeat as they look to heap more misery on England, who have gone 10 Tests without a win, when the two teams face off at the Ageas Bowl here.
A win here will give India an unassailable 2-0 lead with the first Test at Trent Bridge ending in a draw.
The Indians outplayed England both with the bat and ball to win the Lord’s Test by 95 runs and break the jinx of not winning a Test at the cricket headquarters.
In batting, Murali Vijay’s rise has been unprecedented and the Chennai opener’s 317 runs in four innings is more than what Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ian Bell and Alastair Cook put together have scored in the series.
But what really has taken everyone by surprise has been Vijay’s patience and self-denial at the crease.
Known for his explosiveness in the Twenty20 format, having made a name in the Indian Premier League, Vijay has shown great staying powers by offering no shot to 315 of the 922 balls he has faced.
In bowling, Ishant Sharma’s seven-wicket burst in the second Test might have grabbed all the headlines but the real hero for India was Vijay.
The opener’s brilliant 95 in the second innings on a green pitch tailor-made for the English bowlers was just the start India wanted to take a big lead.
Besides Vijay and Ishant, Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been a revelation. His performance both with the bat and bowl in testing conditions has led many to believe that he could be the all-rounder India is so desperately looking for.
The 24-year-old leads the bowling charts with 11 wickets in the series, one more than Ishant, but amazingly the man hailing from Meerut is third in the top run getters for the series behind Vijay and Joe Root with an amazing 209 runs at an average of 69.66.
However, it has not been all smooth sailing for the visitors. A major cause for concern will be, captain in waiting, Kohli’s form and Stuart Binny’s contribution to the team.
Kohli has had a forgettable series so far, managing just 34 runs from four innings at an average of 8.50.
Another issue for the team is what Binny offers to the team. In the squad as an all-rounder, Binny has scored just 88 runs from four innings and failed to pick up a wicket.
To be fair to him, his second-innings knock at Trent Bridge saved the Test for India and he should have had more than one wicket in both the Tests he played if only the catching was good.
Whispers from Indian camp suggest that India might go in with six batsmen, which means Binny could give way to Rohit Sharma.
England’s problems are getting multiplied with each passing day and the withdrawal of their trusted wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior is a big blow even though he is not in form.
Jos buttler, who has shown in the One-Day Internationals that he can bat as aggressively as Prior, will be making his debut at Southampton and, in his own words, a lot earlier than he himself thought he would.
Opener Alastair Cook stays as captain despite his awful form with bat only because of TINA factor. He has gone 27 innings without adding to his England record of 25 Test hundreds, while it is 19 innings since Ian Bell last reached three figures at this level.
Pacers James Anderson and Stuart Broad have both looked physically and mentally drained though the latter is among the wickets his needless scrap with Ravindra Jadeja in the drawn first Test in Nottingham has left him defending a Level 3 charge.
Jadeja was fined 50 percent for his part in the alleged incident, while Anderson could still miss the final two Tests if a separate Aug 1 hearing finds him guilty.