India prepares for redemption as England eyes 4-1

The series has been lost but India would like to leave England shores on a high, when it takes on the host at the Kia Oval.

The Indian think tank needs to take few tough decisions ahead of the fifth Test.   -  AP

The lesson for India, Ravi Shastri said this week, was "not doing something silly to open the door for the opposition". Such learning may not help India save the series -- it's a bit late for that -- but it may still help render the score-line respectable when the fifth and final Test begins at the Oval here on Friday. This has been a closely-contested series and India has not been thrashed by England by any stretch of the imagination. But this has still been a defeat, and history will judge Virat Kohli's men less harshly should they win two Tests on this tour -- something only one Indian side has previously managed in England (1986).

Kohli is ought to be disappointed as India squandered a fine opportunity, losing the first and fourth Tests when the result could so easily have been different. But this was said of the team in South Africa as well and Kohli will know there is progress to be made here. The art of crossing the line, as he put it, is one his unit is yet to master.

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And so to the Oval, where India has won only one of 12 Tests -- that single victory in 1971, though, was the country's first on England shores. On its last two visits, in 2014 and 2011, India has been beaten by an innings: history, then, does not offer much encouragement.

R. Ashwin was ineffectual even as Moeen Ali was enjoying himself bowling into the rough. India's coach and captain insist Ashwin was fit and not feeling any lingering effects of his hip injury; in any case, he was not at his best. The off-spinner took no major part in the nets session on match-eve.

Ravindra Jadeja could take Ashwin's place. Spin is expected to play a part on this pitch as the game wears on, even if there was a sprinkling of grass the evening before. Moeen Ali and Pakistan's Yasir Shah have had success in the last two Tests played at this venue; so India's choice of spinner will be important.

The other decision India has to make regards Hardik Pandya. He has featured in the first four Tests as the fifth bowler, but his presence has robbed the side of an extra batsman. Pandya did not play a major part in the nets on Thursday and it is possible Kohli will finally change his approach and opt for a sixth batsman. That man could be the uncapped G. Hanuma Vihari, who also bowls off-spin part-time. The Andhra batsman, who averages close to 60 in first-class cricket, was being observed closely by Shastri as he batted in the nets on Wednesday.

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Should Vihari make his debut, it will be worth asking why he was chosen ahead of Karun Nair, who was thought good enough to make the squad from the beginning.

England has named an unchanged eleven for the match, but Jonny Bairstow -- who made his feelings clear in Southampton -- has been handed his wicket-keeping gloves back. This will be Alastair Cook's 161st and final Test match and the rest of the English team will be eager to make his farewell a happy one.