India likely to retain winning combination for third Test but door not fully shut for Ashwin

August 24, 2021

All things remaining equal, India are set to retain their winning combination from Lord's, but they are surprised at how little grass there is on the Headingley pitch, which means a return for R Ashwin can't be ruled out.

Spin has averaged 38 in the last five Tests at Headingley, but the return of left-hand batters Dawid Malan and Moeen Ali to go with Sam Curran might be an extra incentive to play Ashwin. Not that any of the left-hand batters has bothered India so far in the series. India will not rule Ashwin out till they have taken a look at the pitch on the morning of the Test on Wednesday.

"We are quite surprised to see the pitch the way it was," India captain Virat Kohli said. "We could see a lot of the surface, which honestly I didn't expect would be the case. I thought there would be more grass on the pitch, and it would be more spicy and lively, so anything is possible. We always name a XII and on the day we have a look at the pitch and what it could become on day three, day four, and accordingly we will go with the right combination."

However, the indication from Kohli was that he will continue to show faith in his four fast bowlers. "We have got no reason to change anything unless people have niggles, which we haven't encountered since we finished the last Test," Kohli said. "Obviously you don't want to disturb or interrupt a winning combination, especially when the team has achieved such an incredible win and [the players] are even more excited to take the field again and do the things that we really enjoyed doing in the last game and to compete and be in those situations again when they can put their hand up and create match-winning performances for the team."

The Lord's win, Kohli said, was extra special because of India's response to provocation. "It was very satisfying after what transpired on the morning of day five," Kohli said. "It just showed this team is not going to back down and take a backward step when provoked. We play together, we play to win, we don't let any opposition take us lightly. We know and they know that we are always going to compete and win games of cricket and take the chances in front of us."

It all began with Jasprit Bumrah bowling short-pitched balls at James Anderson, which led the England No. 11 to believe that Bumrah was not bowling to get him out. On the fifth morning, when it was Bumrah's turn to bat, verbals and short-pitched balls flew. Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, though, dragged India out of a precarious position with the bat and then India bowled England out inside the 60 overs they set the hosts to survive for a draw.

"I think I cannot give you the details of the words that were spoken," Kohli said when asked what it was that provoked his team. "I think it is for the cameras and the stump mics to pick for both teams equally and then be analysed. What's said on the field, what's done in the moment, gives you extra motivation to get together as a team even more strongly. Then there is absolute clarity as to what you need to do.

"The details of it, I don't think it is necessary to discuss after the event. It happens in the moment, and when you are playing competitive sport, these kinds of things happen, but it's what you do after that situation or how you get up from that situation is what matters. For us this is a new Test match, this is a fresh beginning and for us, it is another chance to show what we can do as a team and play competitive cricket and take pride in playing competitive cricket, which we have done over the last so many years so we as a team are just focusing on that."

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