The 28-year-old has had to undergo a lengthy spell on the sidelines after aggravating a lower-back injury during the third ODI between England and India in July.
In his first competitive match since the injury, the pacer shone in a 124-run win for India A over their South African counterparts in the third-place play-off match of the quadrangular series in Alur.
Bhuvneshwar bowled nine overs on his return and picked up 3-33 with the help of one maiden.
Batting first, India A put up 275-7 on the board in their 50 overs with skipper Shreyas Iyer top-scoring with 67.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar with three wickets as India A finish 3rd. Must consider having him around for the last Test.— Saurabh Malhotra (@MalhotraSaurabh) August 29, 2018
In reply, the South Africans were bundled out for just 151 with Deepak Chahar and Mayank Markande picking up two wickets apiece.
That Bhuvneshwar was able to bowl nine overs on his competitive return bodes well for the Indian team management who could be tempted to call up the pacer for the fifth and final Test against England which gets underway on September 7.
Following his injury in the ODI series, Bhuvneshwar was ruled out of the first three Tests though the team management had kept the door open for his return in the final two matches.
The seamer had returned to India to continue his injury rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru. However, his progress was not enough to warrant a selection in the squad for the final two Tests which saw young Prithvi Shaw and Hanuma Vihari being handed their maiden India call-ups.
The five-match series is at a crucial juncture with the hosts currently leading 2-1.
However, history is on England’s side despite India’s 203-run win at Trent Bridge.
Australia’s Ashes team of 1936-37, led by Don Bradman, are the only side in the history of Test cricket to have recovered from 2-0 down and a five-match series.
Here, we look at the key talking points ahead of the crucial showdown at Ageas Bowl.
Green tops greets both teams at Ageas Bowl
Given India’s batsmen historic struggles in England, one would have expected the hosts to prepare the juiciest track of the series so far. The hosts’ pace attack remains one which is built to thrive in swinging conditions, especially with veteran James Anderson leading the line. The 36-year-old has already picked up 17 wickets in the series so far and is just six wickets away from levelling Glenn McGrath’s tally of 563 Test scalps.
That notion though, hasn’t come to pass in the series so far with England shying away from preparing a swinging minefield in the first three Tests. India’s now formidable overseas pace attack might have played its part in England’s thinking in this regard. The Indian pacers have so far picked up 38 of the 46 England wickets to fall so far in the series, even with Ravi Ashwin’s presence in the XI.
On Tuesday, a pitch with a heavy greenish tinge greeted the two teams at Southampton. However, it won’t be a surprise to see some of the grass trimmed heavily, come Thursday, with the hosts wary of the threat being posed by India’s pacers.
Two days out... Quite a green tinge on the Ageas Bowl strip. Not sure why you would give such a wicket to this Indian pace attack. Let's see how it looks at toss time. #ENGvIND pic.twitter.com/I2gTeFX0nS— Chetan Narula (@chetannarula) August 28, 2018
India seek to banish 2014 Southampton memories
Thursday will mark only the third instance of the Ageas Bowl hosting a Test. Commissioned in 2001 as the new home of the Hampshire County Cricket Club, the venue played host to its first-ever Test in 2011 with Sri Lanka being the visitors. That match ended in a draw while the second Test at the venue saw India come calling in 2014.
They entered the match full of confidence after drawing one and winning another in the two preceding Tests against the hosts. What followed was a heavy 266-run defeat for the visitors which completely changed the momentum of the series as England eventually went on to triumph 3-1.
The Indians will be hoping that the momentum generated by their Trent Bridge win is not derailed once again at Southampton this time around.
Pressure growing on Root’s shoulders
England’s top-order has been misfiring for some time now with the side losing four wickets or more under 100 in half of their past 62 Test innings. With the openers in Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings struggling to buy any runs at the moment along with the finger injury to Jonny Bairstow, the expectations of shouldering the run-scoring burden for England is even greater on the skipper currently.
After starting the series on an excellent note with an 81 in the first innings at Edgbaston, Root has struggled heavily himself with his subsequent four innings all ending short of 20. The typical confidence once associated with the Englishman at the start of his innings has not been visible for some time now and he will need to rediscover his very best if he hopes to inspire England’s shaky looking batting card at the moment.
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.
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.
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.
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.