England arrive at The Oval for the fifth Test against India riding a wave of optimism after successive victories that have made them favourites to clinch the series.
The last few weeks have developed a stark contrast in a side that at first couldn’t buy a win, but are now resurgent, and retaining a winning line-up could provide even more to cheer about.
Stuart Broad – despite breaking his nose at Old Trafford – could play, wearing a mask, which would be great news for home fans.
England simply need to avoid defeat in the capital to claim the series.
Calls for Alastair Cook to step down as England captain have subsided since he guided his team to back-to-back wins at the Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford, and the left-handed opener has also rediscovered some individual form.
Scores of 95 and 70 not out in Southampton set the tone for each innings as the hosts won by an impressive 266 runs. The timing of his two declarations in the third Test were spot on as England levelled the series.
That was built on with some impressive bowling at Old Trafford, where Broad took 6-25 before having his nose broken. An innings victory will have done wonders for the morale in the dressing room.
Record at The Oval
A win or a draw will guarantee an overall series victory for England, and history suggests that they won’t have too much to worry about this week. India have only ever recorded a solitary five-day victory in south London.
In addition, England have won three and drawn seven of their 11 Test matches against India at The Oval.
The fitness of key bowlers, Stuart Broad and James Anderson, will be vital to maintaining that impressive record.
The Masked Man
With Broad participating in training – practicing both his batting and bowling – on Thursday, it looks likely that he will keep his place in the side.
The 28-year-old now has 16 wickets to his name from the first four matches of the series, working a new ball tandem with Anderson – who has recorded 21 dismissals.
When Varun Aaron’s bouncer lodged itself between the grille and peak of Broad’s helmet last week, few people would have expected him to soldier on. But much to the credit of the
Nottinghamshire seamer, it looks as though he will play through the pain threshold and offer his services to England.
If it transpires that Broad is not fit enough, then Steven Finn or Ben Stokes will come into the pace attack.
Ishant Sharma to return?
While Peter Moores and Alastair Cook may well be sweating over the fitness of one of their best bowlers, India will be ecstatic if they can recall Ishant Sharma once again.
The tall seamer decimated England’s lower order on the final day at Lord’s as the tourists won by 95 runs.
Sharma took second innings figures of 7-74 – the best of his career – but has missed the last two Test matches with an ankle injury.
If fit, he is likely to replace Pankaj Singh, who has had a difficult introduction to five-day cricket, returning match figures of 0-179 on debut in Southampton.
Another assessment of Ali
There has been a distinct correlation between the wicket-taking capabilities of Moeen Ali and England’s results this summer. The Worcestershire all-rounder has been thrust into the spotlight as the nation’s primary frontline spinner, and he is beginning to thrive under the pressure of Test match cricket.
Match figures of 8-129 and 4-39 at the Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford respectively were integral contributions to providing England with successive victories.
The bearded batsman will strive to take more wickets in the final Test of the summer as he looks to cement his place in the side for years to come.
Aside from the on-field excitement that always accompanies the final match of a series, the
fifth Test will also stage fundraising for honourable causes this Saturday, which is Cricket United Day.
Working in conjunction with the Lord’s Taverners, Chance to Shine, and PCA Benevolent Fund, Cricket United Day is aiming to help hundreds of disabled children enjoy the chance to play competitive cricket.
An impressive £20,000 was donated on the day by fans at the ground during the last Test of the 2013 Ashes series, which contributed to raising £50,000 overall.
Fans are encouraged to wear blue on day two to support the cause. Bids can also be placed on original portraits and sketches by England Test stars such as Joe Root, Stuart Broad and Moeen Ali.
Below is a video that documents last year’s Cricket United Day