They will never have a better chance to emulate one of England’s greatest teams and win a series in India, the way Alastair Cook and company did in 2012.
Wednesday’s day-night third Test, with the series level at 1-1 and two to play, represents a massive opportunity for Joe Root.
Yes, England were thoroughly outplayed in the second Test but that pitch was unfit for purpose. Everybody expects the turning ball in India — and no one complained when it turned square in Sri Lanka — but nobody expects lumps to come out of the surface on the first day at the Sardar Patel Stadium, as they did in Chennai.
Jofra Archer is put through his paces in England training at the Sardar Patel Stadium this week
Ben Stokes said England’s fast bowlers will be ‘licking their lips’ at prospect of the third Test
The enormous Sardar Patel Stadium, the largest cricket venue in the world, hosts the Test
The key will be whether the pink SG ball and the ring of LED lights around the perimeter of the roof at the 110,000 capacity arena are conducive to lavish swing and justify Ben Stokes’s assertion that England’s fast bowlers are ‘licking their lips’ in anticipation.
There was a clue, perhaps, to what India expect on Wednesday in the bullish way Virat Kohli reacted to Stokes’s confidence. India’s captain reminded us that anything England’s seamers can do, his can do, too.
‘I’m not bothered about England’s strengths,’ said Kohli. ‘We have beaten them in their home where the ball does way more. If it’s a seam-friendly track for them, it is for us, too, and we have the best bowling attack in the world.
‘There are many weaknesses in the opposition as well as strengths. We are ready for anything.’
India captain Virat Kohli (left), with England’s Joe Root after the second Test in Chennai
Root was more reluctant to downplay the impact of spin and the threat of Ravichandran Ashwin, but acknowledged that a brand of ball England have never used before in a rebuilt stadium staging its first Test represents a step into the unknown.
‘I’m sure at some point the wicket will turn, but the majority of them do in Test cricket,’ said Root. ‘It’s just when it turns, and if it happens off the straight or out of the rough. But the fact our bowlers are full of confidence and may have a big impact in India as a seam group is exciting.
‘There might be extra lateral movement, and that will work in our favour, but I don’t think it changes how we operate.’
So, then, are we facing a battle between Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav on one side and Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer and either Chris Woakes or Stuart Broad on the other? With the unpredictability day-night cricket and the pink ball bring? It does seem so — and that is an enticing prospect.
James Anderson gets to grips with the pink ball ahead of the day-night third Test this week
Both sides’ last experience of day-night Test cricket would not suggest a high-scoring game is on the cards.
England were bowled out for 58 by New Zealand three years ago in Auckland — 33 of them from Craig Overton at No 9 — when Trent Boult and Tim Southee swung the pink ball around corners.
And India were skittled for 36 in Adelaide in December’s first Test, before Kohli went home on paternity leave and his stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane turned round their fortunes to win the series 2-1.
‘Both were bizarre experiences for two quality sides,’ insisted Kohli, who is lucky to be playing in this Test after his blatant shows of dissent to umpire Nitin Menon in Chennai. ‘Barring 45 minutes of bad cricket in Adelaide, we dominated that Test. We are confident in the way we play the pink ball.’
Joe Root after being bowled by Trent Boult for a duck in the 2018 pink ball Test in Auckland
Root believes double-figure scores might be par for the pink-ball course. ‘These strange passages of play have happened and collapses seem to be a trend in day-night Tests,’ he said.
‘You need to make sure you stop them as a batting group. It’s vital to use your first 20 balls as a batsman to get used to conditions and be aware they can change throughout the day.’
England could make as many as five changes on Wednesday to their beaten side after making four to a winning one after the first Test.
But Root’s inclination on Tuesday was to leave his choice as late as possible, just in case he wakes up and a pitch that has been green for most of the week suddenly turns into another dust bowl.
Virat Kohli walks off after being run-out during India’s abysmal collapse in the day-night Test at Adelaide during their recent tour of Australia
The damage is writ large on the Adelaide Oval scoreboard as India were bowled out for 36
‘We’re going to take our time,’ said the England captain. ‘We’re going to make sure we give ourselves as much information as possible before we make that decision. The pitch has changed drastically in the last few days.
‘There’s been a bit more live grass than previous wickets we’ve seen out here, but it has got drier as the days have gone on. We need to have real clarity on the balance of attack we want and how big a factor the dew might be.’
The smart money is on Jonny Bairstow replacing Dan Lawrence at No 3, and Anderson and Archer returning to take the new ball.
It will be a close call between Rory Burns and Zak Crawley at the top of the order, while Broad and Woakes appear to be competing for one place — unless the pitch really has changed and a second spinner, Dom Bess, is drafted in.
Zak Crawley in the nets on Monday – he will compete with Rory Burns for a spot atop the order
Much then for England to ponder before they take to the biggest cricket ground in the world in front of a crowd of around 55,000 that Kohli hopes will help swing the series in India’s favour.
‘The crowd will play a massive role,’ he added. ‘When that many people put their energy behind you, it puts pressure on the opposition. I hope England will be intimidated by the crowd.’
Intimidated or inspired — that is the question for an improving England side who simply have to take their chance now if they are to remain in the running for a place in the World Test Championship final. The stakes are high.