Virat Kohli and his men were in imperious form in the preceding limited-overs clashes against the West Indies and they will now hope to add the Test series to their conquests in the Caribbean after their clean sweep in the ODIs and T20s.
It has been quite some time since both teams featured in the five-day format with India’s last assignment coming nearly eight months ago in Australia while Windies’ most recent Test battle came against England at the start of the year.
Hosts take confidence from England win
It might be six months since it happened but Jason Holder and his men will not be short of confidence for the two-match series against India after their memorable win over England at home in February.
It was only the third Test series win for West Indies in over five years and they remain very much a work in progress under the captaincy of Holder. Things are, however, starting to look more promising for the Windies with the emergence of a potent pace unit comprising of Holder, Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach.
The Windies skipper himself has been an inspirational figure with the star all-rounder averaging 51.36 and 13.35 with the bat and ball respectively in the format since the turn of 2018.
The hosts showed tremendous fighting spirit in their triumph over England despite their relative inexperience and they won’t be overawed by an opposition they have now failed to beat for 17 years in the Test format.
Selection conundrum for India
Kohli and the Indian team management have multiple selection headaches ahead of the opening Test but none more so than in the batting department. Question marks hang over who will open the batting for the visitors as well as the composition of the middle-order where Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Hanuma Vihari are all vying for a place.
Rohit and Vihari could also be in contention to open the innings for India although Mayank Agarwal partnering KL Rahul at the top looks the most likely combination.
Rahane is the batsman under the most pressure to perform with the India vice-captain yet to score a Test century since August, 2017 while Rohit is looking to consolidate a spot in the squad after being given another call-up.
Vihari, meanwhile, has been in good form in India A’s shadow tour of the West Indies and the Hyderabad batsman should get a look-in.
Pant or Saha?
While the make-up of India’s batting order is unclear, they also need to pick one of Rishabh Pant and Wriddhiman Saha.
Chief selector MSK Prasad had declared before the start of the tour that Pant was being groomed as the long-term wicket-keeper across all three formats and the youngster remains the only India wicketkeeper to register overseas Tests tons in Australia and England.
However, there is Saha’s experience to be considered with the Bengal man making a return to the Test setup after spending nearly 18 months on the sidelines with an injury.
The 34-year-old warmed up for the Test series with two half-centuries against West Indies A recently and it will be tough to deny him a spot in the playing XI after what has been an excruciating wait.
West Indies: Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Darren Bravo, Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer, Shamarh Brooks, Jason Holder (c), Shane Dowrich (wk), Rahkeem Cornwall, Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach.
India: Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami.
England batsman Jason Roy has passed a concussion test after being hit in the nets ahead of the third Ashes contest at Headingley.
The 29-year-old was struck by a throw-down from former international Marcus Trescothick, who is working with the team in a temporary capacity, during practice on Tuesday.
Roy was assessed after impact and was able to continue batting, but also required a follow-up check on the eve of the match to determine any delayed symptoms.
Roy will undergo a further check on the morning of the match, the England and Wales Cricket Board indicated, but is now expected to take his place at the top of the order.
The issue of head injuries has become a major talking point in the series after Australia batsman Steve Smith was struck in the neck by a 92mph bouncer from Jofra Archer at Lord’s.
He was subsequently diagnosed with delayed onset concussion, becoming the first Test cricketer to be substituted for the issue, and has also been ruled out of this week’s match.
Roy was not the only player to be hit on the helmet on Tuesday as both sides build their readiness against the short ball, with Marnus Labuschagne – Smith’s replacement in the last match – struck by team-mate Mitchell Marsh.
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The Lord’s Test between England and Australia ended in a thrilling draw, but the ramifications of that clash will still be felt greatly when the two historic rivals lock horns again in the third Ashes Test at Headingley beginning on Thursday.
The visitors are one win away from retaining the Ashes urn after just about preserving their 1-0 lead in the five-match series but they will have to cope with the absence of the talismanic Steve Smith at Leeds with concussion ruling the right-hander out of the clash.
As such, England will feel it is their best chance to restore parity in the series as the Ashes returns to Headingley for the first time in over a decade.
Momentum shift with England
While the Aussies will be relieved to have come away from Lord’s with their series lead still intact, the tide has very much turned in England’s favour ahead of the third Test and it is the hosts who will believe they have the wind on their backs.
They came agonisingly close to winning the second Test despite the numerous overs lost due to rain and the absence of Smith will only serve to bolster their hopes further.
The Australian batsman alone has contributed 378 runs in just three innings and has scored more than 150 runs than the second highest run-getter (Rory Burns) in the series.
Despite the horrific nature of Smith’s injury, England will be delighted that they do not have to face him at Headingley and they will be further emboldened by the debut showing of Jofra Archer at Lord’s.
The Barbados-born pacer bowled some devastating and hostile spells at Lord’s which also resulted in Smith’s nasty injury and his emergence will give England plenty of confidence despite the continued absence of veteran James Anderson.
Spotlight falls on Australia’s misfiring top-order
Smith’s absence might send spirits soaring in the England camp but it could not have come at a worse time for the visitors whose top-order has misfired all series.
“It’s always a blow, no doubt about that,” head coach Justin Langer said on Smith’s injury.
“If you take your best players out it always has an impact so we have got to make sure that all the other guys, our senior players and our younger players, all step up and fill what are almost unfillable shoes as he is almost the best player in the world.”
What Langer will want most desperately is for his top-three to step up in Smith’s absence after what has been a dismal showing by them in the two matches. David Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Usman Khawaja have so far aggregated just 64 runs between them and the spotlight will very much be on them at Leeds.
Smith’s official concussion substitute Marnus Labuschagne scored a gritty 59 in the second innings to earn Australia a draw at Lord’s and the right-hander will most definitely keep his place in the squad after that display.
Australia’s pace dilemma
Replacing Smith’s runs is not the only headache being faced by Langer and the Australian team management who also need to do a fine balancing act in the pace department. Pat Cummins and Peter Siddle have been the two pacers to play in both Tests so far while James Pattinson and Josh Hazlewood have featured in one each.
Meanwhile, the 2019 World Cup’s leading wicket-taker Mitchell Starc is yet to get a game and is looking likely to miss out once again while Michael Neser also waits in the wings. The visitors will be wary of giving Cummins a rest at this stage with the No1 ranked pacer leading the Ashes wicket-taking charts with 13 scalps while Siddle has been a reliable third seamer. There is, however, every likelihood that Pattinson returns to playing XI after sitting out the Lord’s clash.
Which pacers Australia lines up with at Leeds remains to be seen but what is certain is that captain Tim Paine will not be wanting to engage in a ‘bouncer war’ with England following Archer’s fiery showing at Lord’s.
“We know what our plans are to beat England. What we’re not going to do is get caught up an emotional battle of who’s going to bowl the quickest bouncers,” Langer said.
“We’re here to win the Test match, not to see how many helmets we can hit.”
England: Jason Roy, Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Joe Root (c), Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad.
Australia: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c and wk), Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle.