Ben Stokes and Hardik Pandya headline our England v India fourth Test key battles

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All-rounders can make defining impact in Southampton.

The enthralling Test series between England and India has left us spectators on the edge of our seats throughout.

And the contest is finely poised heading into this week’s fourth match at Southampton, following the tourists’ Trent Bridge fightback to reduce the deficit to 2-1.

Momentum is with the Men in Blue but can England stem the tide?

Here, we shine the spotlight on three key player battles that could go a long way to deciding the outcome of the Ageas Bowl clash.

As ever, get in touch with your thoughts via Twitter and our Cricket Facebook page.

BEN STOKES  v HARDIK PANDYA

The England all-rounder’s highly publicised return to the field following his trial didn’t exactly go to plan. He, along with his team-mates, struggled in the thrashing at Trent Bridge.

Stokes claimed just two wickets from the 35 overs he sent down across both innings and clearly lacked some zip and sharpness, though he did show his renowned heart, tenacity and skill to grind out his slowest Test fifty to date – scoring 62 off 187 balls (287 minutes at the crease).

He is still England’s biggest pressure-game performer and this is the type of occasion where he can come alive again, like he did at Edgbaston, to make the difference.

Pandya’s Test career is just 10 matches old but he produced his best showing yet at Nottingham, where he claimed six wickets in the match – including a brilliant 5-28 in the first innings, bowling with seam and swing – and then backed that up with an unbeaten half-century.

West Indies legend Michael Holding’s pre-Test comments that the 24-year-old had a long way to go until he could be considered a genuine all-rounder like Kapil Dev clearly riled him up and he answered with aplomb. The challenge for the Mumbai Indians star now is to show some consistency and repeat his last outing up with a performance of similar substance.

Pandya's spell saw England lose 10 wickets in a session.

Pandya’s spell saw England lose 10 wickets in a session at Trent Bridge.

JONNY BAIRSTOW v RISHABH PANT

It is touch and go whether Bairstow will play as a specialist batsman or assume his usual wicket-keeping batsman role after sustaining a broken finger in the third Test. The Yorkshireman is desperate for the latter amid speculation England hierarchy are looking at the possibility of reinstating Jos Buttler to glove work on a full-time basis moving forward. That would be a great shame for the 28-year-old, who has worked incredibly hard to become a superb all-condition player and one of his country’s most consistent performers in all formats.

Meanwhile, Pant, at just 20, passed his Test debut with flying colours and although he didn’t offer too much with the bat (scoring 25 in two innings), grew in great confidence behind the stumps and looked like he would snaffle every (and there were plenty of them) chances that would come his way as he claimed seven in the match, with five of those coming in the first innings.

India's wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant, who's taken five catches on his test debut, keeping wicket during play on the second day of the third Test cricket match between England and India at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, central England on August 19, 2018. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. NO ASSOCIATION WITH DIRECT COMPETITOR OF SPONSOR, PARTNER, OR SUPPLIER OF THE ECB (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

India’s wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant enjoyed a solid Test bow in Nottingham.

The openers

Keaton Jennings v Shikhar Dhawan

It feels like the last-chance saloon for South Africa-born batsman Keaton Jennings, who has scored just 94 runs at 18.80 in the series so far.

The left-hander has looked especially vulnerable outside off-stump again and his woes with the bat have had a knock-on effect as far as his slip catching goes, dropping Virat Kohli, most notably, on 93 in the second innings at Trent Bridge.

He needs a score in this Test to cement his spot and not give England’s selectors the chance to chop and change the opening combination again, even though partner Alastair Cook is also experiencing an extremely patchy run of form.

That said, conditions for the top-order have been difficult for both sets of batsmen during this series given the ball has nipped, seamed and moved on greener tops. Aside from Kohli and Bairstow, no other batter has scored 200 runs or more.

On the other hand, Dhawan knows a thing or two about being dropped. The 32-year-old was omitted from the Lord’s humiliation after his struggles for form were put under the microscope by Sam Curran, in particular, at Edgbaston. But the Delhi-born star returned with two decent knocks, 35 and 44, in the third match – and looked far more assured – leaving the ball well. He will be hoping to carry on in a similar vein this week and his runs could prove valuable moving forward.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: England player Keaton Jennings looks on during England Nets ahead of the 4th Specsavers Test Match at The Ageas Bowl on August 28, 2018 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Will he be all smiles at the end of the Test? Keaton Jennings.

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Virat Kohli has no inclination of playing in ECB's latest 'Hundred' format

Sudhir Gupta 29/08/2018
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Virat Kohli does not want to be a part of the 100-ball format.

India skipper Virat Kohli has raised concerns that commercial aspects are hurting the true quality of the game.

The 29-year-old batsman is one of the busiest cricketers in the world leading India in all three formats along with the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL.

Speaking to Wisden Cricket Monthly, Kohli touched on the demanding schedule for modern cricketers.

“I’m already very… I wouldn’t say frustrated, but sometimes it can get very demanding of you when you have to play so much cricket regularly. I feel somewhere the commercial aspect is taking over the real quality of cricket and that hurts me,” Kohli stated.

The No1 ranked Test batsman in the world also spoke on the possibility of playing in the ‘Hundred’ format devised by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). The 100-ball format is ECB’s attempt to reignite interest in the sport in the country and there have been reports that top Indian cricketers could be invited to play in the inaugural match.

Kohli, however, does not have any inclination to play the format.

Kohli leads India across all three formats of the game.

Kohli leads India across all three formats of the game.

“Obviously for the people involved (ECB) in the whole process and the set-up it will be really exciting but I cannot think of one more format, to be honest,” Kohli said.

“Honestly, I don’t want to be a testing sort of a cricketer for any new format. I don’t want to be someone who’s going to be part of that World XI who comes and launches the 100-ball format,” he added.

The India superstar was slated to make his maiden appearance in England’s county cricket this year but his proposed stint with Surrey did not come to fruition due to a neck injury he sustained in the IPL.

The Indian man remains determined to play in England’s domestic first-class competition at some point in the future.

“County cricket always intrigued me. Unfortunately, it couldn’t happen this time but I would love to come again in future,” the right-hander said.

“I have heard so much from so many players over so many years that it has really helped them understand their games even better. Also just to understand how professional the set-up over here is, how the longest format of the game is looked at with so much respect.”

Kohli and his men will lock horns with England in the fourth Test of the five-match series which gets underway at Southampton on Thursday.

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Anderson closing in on McGrath and more England v India fourth Test stats

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Seemingly as good as ever: James Anderson.

England and India clash in the pivotal fourth Test match at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton on Thursday.

The hosts hold a slender 2-1 series lead with this match and the finale at the Oval to come.

However, it is the tourists who have all the momentum after a crushing win at Trent Bridge.

Here, we look at the key match stats before the two teams lock horns again.

  • 6 – James Anderson (557 wickets) is just six scalps away from equalling Glenn McGrath’s record Test wicket haul as a seamer (563), and seven shy of overtaking the Australian legend. The England bowler is the leading series wicket-taker so far with 17 and fifth in the all-time Test wicket victims charts currently.
  • 6 – Virat Kohli is just six runs shy of 6,000 runs in Test cricket. The Indian skipper will no doubt reach that landmark imminently and when he does, Kohli will become the sixth-fastest man in history to get there. Remarkably, Don Bradman took just 69 innings to amass the total while Kohli has played 118 Test knocks for the Men in Blue.
  • 1 – India pace ace Ishant Sharma (249) needs just one more wicket to reach the 250 milestone in Tests. Should he do that in Southampton, the tall seamer will become the seventh Indian bowler to claim 250 victims or more.
  • 19 – Aside from Ravi Ashwin taking the wicket of James Anderson to clinch victory in Nottingham, 19 out of the 20 English wickets available were taken by seam bowling at Trent Bridge. In the series as a whole, Indian quicks have gobbled up 38 out of 46 wickets on offer.
India's captain Virat Kohli is interviewed after winning the third Test cricket match between England and India at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, central England on August 22, 2018. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. NO ASSOCIATION WITH DIRECT COMPETITOR OF SPONSOR, PARTNER, OR SUPPLIER OF THE ECB (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Unsurprisingly, Virat Kohli is on the cusp of another landmark.

  • 3 – This is only the third Test match played at the Ageas Bowl, formerly named the Rose Bowl, in Southampton over the past seven years. England have yet to taste defeat at the venue after drawing with Sri Lanka in 2011 and beating India in 2014.
  • 266 – the run margin of victory for England when they clashed with the sub continent giants four years ago. Moeen Ali claimed 6-67 in the second innings as the hosts sauntered to victory.
  • 1937 – the year in which Bradman’s Australia became the only Test team in history to turn round a 2-0 deficit and win a five-match series 3-2. The Baggy Green did it on home soil against England during the 1936/37 Ashes, sealing a win by an innings and 200 runs in the fifth match at Melbourne. It is obviously still possible for India to do something similar.

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