Series on the line as India takes on unsettled England

The visitor is likely to field an unchanged side for successive games for the first time under Kohli.

Kohli will hope and believe his troops can make big runs again.   -  AP

There is a country club feel to the Ageas Bowl. It is a half-hour's drive out of town, sunk into a hillside with a spa, a hotel, a health club and a golf course on the premises. It seems more like the sort of setting for a corporate jolly than a cricket match.

But Hampshire's home ground should come alive when the fourth Test begins here on Thursday. This has been a wonderfully unpredictable series: a thrilling first Test, a rout in the second, and a stunning Indian fightback in the third.

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With two Tests left, there is no saying how things will pan out. There were no exaggerated celebrations from India after the win at Trent Bridge. The team was aware that there still remained a lot of work to be done for it to leave these shores with a positive result.

Lose the fourth Test, and the victory in Nottingham will be little more than a foot-note when the story of this tour is told. Virat Kohli and his lot are confident and in good spirits, but the score  -as Joe Root sought to remind everyone last week - is still 2-1 to England.

It will be a relief to Kohli that India's batsmen collectively performed in the previous game. Shikhar Dhawan and K.L. Rahul stitched together two half-century stands for the first wicket, Cheteshwar Pujara managed a fifty, Ajinkya Rahane got one too, and so did Hardik Pandya. The captain himself racked up 200 runs from two innings.

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The fast bowlers outshone their English counterparts - Jasprit Bumrah was impressive, Ishant Sharma was reliable, and Pandya demonstrated that he deserved to keep his place in the side.

It is likely then that for the first time after 45 matches - and the first time under Kohli's leadership - India will field the same XI insuccessive games. The one worry was over R. Ashwin's fitness: he is now fit to play. "Seeing the way things are right now," Kohli said here, "we don’t feel we need to change anything."

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Instead, it is England looking unsettled now, players injured or out of form. Root announced his XI on Wednesday, making two changes to the side that lost at Trent Bridge.

Chris Woakes, who is nursing a quadricep injury, has been replaced by Sam Curran while Ollie Pope has gone out for Moeen Ali. The latter has been included with a view to bolstering the bowling group, with doubts over the ability of Ben Stokes - who has a left knee niggle - to handle a big workload.

Jonny Bairstow, despite his protestations, will feature as a specialist batsman at No.4 as his broken finger recovers. Jos Buttler will take over wicket-keeping duties instead.

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Ali, who has been in fine form this month, having scored a double hundred for Worcestershire, will remember this arena fondly. It was here four years ago that he took six for 67 in the fourth innings to condemn India to a massive defeat.

The visitor had led the series 1-0 before the caravan arrived on the south coast; things went steadily downhill from that point. This Indian team will be desperate to avoid that fate; the goal, as Kohli has stated time and again, is not just to win isolated matches overseas but whole series.

This is the first Test at the Ageas Bowl since India's visit four years ago - and will become only the third the venue has hosted. The playing surface wore a thin coat of green on match-eve.

But this is still a hard pitch, and in Hampshire's last three home games in the County Championship, there have been four hundreds and 13 fifties, which suggests this may not be such a bad place for batsmen after all.

Kohli will hope and believe his troops can make big runs again. A series is on the line.

The teams:

India: Virat Kohli (capt.), R. Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik, Mohammed Shami, Karun Nair, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, K.L. Rahul, Ishant Sharma, Prithvi Shaw, Shardul Thakur, G. Hanuma Vihari, and Umesh Yadav.

England: Joe Root (capt.), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Alastair Cook, Sam Curran, Keaton Jennings, Adil Rashid, and Ben Stokes.

Match officials: On-field Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena and Bruce Oxenford; Referee: Andy Pycroft; Third Umpire: Joel Wilson.

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