2-1, 2-2 or 3-1? India chase history, England look to avoid ignominy in one last squabble

Joe Root, Chris Silverwood and James Anderson take a look at the pitch
September 09, 2021

Big picture

Here come the history boys. Virat Kohli's team stands on the brink of another Test triumph for the annals. They have avoided the pitfalls that regularly undermined India's chances in England over the last decade - resulting in defeats to the tune of 4-0, 3-1 and 4-1 under Kohli and MS Dhoni - and can almost reach out and touch the Pataudi Trophy, which was last lifted by the touring team in 2007. After several months of careful planning and execution, India are closing in on the prize they came here for (okay, there was also the World Test Championship, but we'll gloss over that).

There is a job still to be done at Old Trafford, though. And news of further Covid-19 complications on the eve of the Test are unlikely to settle any nerves. An outright cancellation seems unlikely (not least because it would hand India the series without having to step on to the field) but the results of another round of testing among the touring party will be awaited with some trepidation.

England must stay focused, too. They'll know they have been second best for much of the series but, as was the case in the 2019 Ashes, they can still sneak a draw by putting together a performance in the final Test. As Joe Root referenced during the Oval autopsy, his side has already bounced back once from a fifth-day shellacking in London, and they could hardly hope for a better venue at which to try and do so again: in the last 20 years, the only team to have emerged with so much as a draw at Old Trafford is Australia, with England winning 12 out of the last 15 Tests held there.

Root has carried England's batting throughout the series - throughout 2021, in fact - but he will be left carrying an unwanted label if he can't oversee victory, as the only English captain to lose two home Test series in the same summer. There might be no shame in saying that India and New Zealand are simply better sides (viz. the WTC final) - but there will certainly be stigma should England be left with a sole victory from seven Tests. And has anyone mentioned that there's an Ashes winter to come?

The India camp is nursing one or two sore bodies, though the opportunity to surge through the home side one more time - like a Jasprit Bumrah reverse-swinging yorker - should see them all right. But if it's strength in depth you're after, well, the ability to call in, say, R Ashwin or Mohammed Shami might seem fairly agreeable to most captains. (Of course, if Kohli wants Ravi Shastri's view, it'll have to be over Zoom due to the coach's own spell in Covid isolation.)

England's resources in red-ball cricket are rather more thin, although they do have Jos Buttler back (series average: 14.40). But while India are unarguably the stronger collective, England will hope some individual brilliance from Root, James Anderson or, perhaps, superhero-next-door Chris Woakes can help them salvage a drawn series. There should be no little motivation on either side for the conclusion of the men's international summer.

Form guide

(last five completed matches; most recent first)

England: LWLDL

India: WLWDL

Players to watch

Five years after that swoon-inducing debut in India, Haseeb Hameed has made a quietly encouraging return to the Test arena. A golden duck on comeback at Lord's didn't auger well, but he has made a pair of 60s since then, helping to put on successive century opening stands alongside Rory Burns at Headingley and The Oval. He now heads back to Old Trafford, where he came through with Lancashire - only to be released without ceremony two years ago, after a disastrous dip in form following that first foray with England. Hameed has grown up plenty and harbours no ill will; doubtless his "boyhood crowd" would love the opportunity to demonstrate the same.

Is anyone not watching Virat Kohli? It hasn't been a vintage tour with the bat (so far), but India's captain has nevertheless been the focal point for so much of what has gone on - be it engaging in verbal stoushes with Anderson and Ollie Robinson, reminding England's batters of the state of play, or giving his best Viv Richards impression when charging up from slip. And despite a fearful working over for his outside edge - seven dismissals out of seven have been caught keeper or slip - the runs have started to come again. A couple of fifties might seem meagre returns after his feats of 2018, but India securing the series would more than make up for that. Besides, there's still time to make one last statement with the bat.

Team news

Root confirmed before the Test that Buttler would return as wicketkeeper, after missing the Oval Test to attend the birth of his daughter, meaning there is a straight selection dust-up between Jonny Bairstow and Ollie Pope for the No. 5 berth. Moeen Ali remains the first-choice spinner, but Jack Leach could also come into contention if the surface is deemed likely to turn. Mark Wood is fit for a recall, with England expected to rely on medical advice over the question of whether to rest James Anderson or Ollie Robinson.

England (probable): 1 Rory Burns, 2 Haseeb Hameed, 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Jonny Bairstow/Ollie Pope, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Ollie Robinson, 10 Mark Wood, 11 James Anderson

Will Ashwin finally get a game? Does Ajinkya Rahane have any more lives left? Is Rohit Sharma fit? Questions aplenty for India, and that's before you consider their final training session was cancelled amid concerns about a potential Covid outbreak. Mayank Agarwal is on standby to open if Rohit can't overcome the knee issue that kept him off the field for day five at The Oval, while Hanuma Vihari lurks in the shadows should the management hand Rahane his papers. Ravindra Jadeja is also nursing knee problems, with - wait for it - Axar Patel in line for his first appearance of the tour. Where does that leave Ashwin? Well, he could be still involved, despite the "template", as Bumrah seems set to be rested and Mohammed Siraj is also carrying a niggle.

India (probable): 1 KL Rahul, 2 Rohit Sharma/Mayank Agarwal, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Ajinkya Rahane/Hanuma Vihari, 6 Rishabh Pant (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja/Axar Patel, 8 Shardul Thakur, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Mohammed Shami/Mohammad Siraj, 11 Umesh Yadav

Pitch and conditions

Hard and bouncy. That's how they usually serve it up in Manchester. Decent to bat on but offering something for quicks and spinners alike - although at this late stage in the season, the tracks might be lower and a little on the worn side. Weather forecasts suggest an end to the UK's brief September hot spell, with the potential for rain marking a return to more autumnal conditions.


  • England are unbeaten against India at Old Trafford, although they have only played one Test there since 1990 - an innings victory in 2014.

  • Bumrah reached 100 Test wickets at The Oval, in his 24th match, eclipsing Kapil Dev as the fastest Indian quick to the mark.

  • Root is 26 runs shy of Michael Vaughan's English record of 1481 runs in a calendar year.

  • Moeen needs five wickets to become only the third England spinner to 200 in Tests, after Derek Underwood (297) and Graeme Swann (255).

  • India have twice won two Tests on a tour of England (1986 and 2021) - they have never won three.


"As a group we're determined to win this Test and level the series. Spirits are high and there will be one last big push for a must-win game."
Jos Buttler expects a response from England

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