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4th Test: Ashwin fit as India chase history at Southampton

SOUTHAMPTON: There’s a calm sense of assurance in the Indian ranks. The victory in Nottingham has done wonders for the team’s confidence and now is the time to build on the momentum at the picturesque Ageas Bowl. The road leading up to the stadium is called Marshall Drive — named after legendary West Indian pacer Malcolm Marshall (who also played for Hampshire) — and immediately you start believing this is a venue where the pacers will hold sway.

But there are differing views about the possible nature of the pitch. While it looks a bit green from the top and former England player Dominic Cork says “there could be a bit of spongy bounce”, Shane Warne insists India should go with two spinners. India, on the other hand, possibly mulled the five-pacer idea for a while before settling down with a 4-1 pace-spin lineup. “Ashwin has recovered well and is fit to play. I don’t think this pitch is like Johannesburg, where we played five pacers (at the start of the year). So there could be a bit of turn on offer on Days 4 and 5,” Indian captain Virat Kohli said on match eve.
England, meanwhile, for the first time in the series, will play with two spinners, leggie Adil Rashid and off-spinner Moeen Ali, even though the offie is seen more as a No. 7 batsman. “(Ollie) Pope will miss the Test and Moeen will be back. He did well going back to county cricket and Jonny Bairstow will bat at No. 4,” captain Joe Root said, adding that Bairstow won’t keep due to his fractured finger.

Kohli, on the other hand, for the first time in 39 Tests as captain, is probably looking to play an unchanged XI. He was asked about it by former England captain Mike Atherton as he was heading for the press conference and Kohli spoke about the conversation. “I told Mike that changes were done at times because there were injuries as well. But now we have gained momentum at the right time and we have to build on that,” Kohli said.

But he knows it’s easier said than done. This England team was stung by the reverse at Nottingham and even though Root maintains a smiling face, you could see that the loss has hurt them. Just as the Indian team is trying to square the series, Root, too, knows that this is an opportunity for him to wrap up the series against the No. 1 team in the world. “Overhead conditions do play a role here. Things change very fast and we have to be careful,” the English skipper said.

While the hosts talk about being careful, Kohli stresses on being as “ruthless and relentless” as they were in Nottingham. The last time India were in England, they let go of a 1-0 lead. “At that time, we probably didn’t know how to capitalize on the lead. Hopefully, things are different now,” he said.
The one thing that gives Kohli the confidence going into this Test is the form of the bowling lineup. The bowlers have been getting 20 wickets at will away from home and on this pitch, he has the belief that the bowlers can do it all over again. “Even if you score 1000 runs in Test cricket you don’t win. It’s about taking 20 wickets and even though we did that in Nottingham, it’s going to be harder here,” Kohli said, setting the stage up for a pulsating game in the meadows.

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