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More at play than the pitch in final Test showdown

Big picture

It would be tempting to place the Ahmedabad pitch and ball on centre stage, given that both stole the critics’ attention after the two-nights-only performance that was the third Test. But then, that would be akin to allowing some wonky scenery to distract from the actors and there’s so much more at play here. Crucially for India, they cannot afford to lose the grand finale at the same venue if they are to reach the World Test Championship final against New Zealand in June. But they also need only a draw to get there.

England, whose heavy defeat inside two days last week denied them any prospect of making it to the big dance, have shifted the narrative towards what drawing the series 2-2 would mean. Given that India have not lost two Tests in a home series since 2012 and the margins of their two most recent victories – 317 runs in the second Test and 10 wickets in the third – it would be quite something for England to turn things back around.

To do so, however, they need an underperforming batting order to lift. While this match, starting on Thursday, will be played during the day with a return to the red ball, both sides expect more of the same from the sharp-turning surface at Narendra Modi Stadium. The fact that Joe Root scored more runs in the first innings of the series than his entire team did in the next five puts their plight in sharp focus and when he joined the majority in struggling with the bat in the most recent match, they needed someone else to step up. Zak Crawley did that to some extent, asserting himself early for his half-century. Given that regular opener Rory Burns made way for Crawley’s return from injury and that an unlikely swap back is the only realistic change of batsmen available, they need improvement from within the existing lineup.

By their own admission, England fluffed their lines on selection for the third Test, thinking the pink ball under lights would offer more to their seamers and going with only one specialist spinner in Jack Leach as Root picked up a five-wicket haul with his part-time offspin. That puts Dom Bess in the frame for a recall, having been left out of the previous two matches, where India’s spinners dominated. Axar Patel now has 18 wickets at 9.44 from two career Tests – the two that England have lost during this series – and R Ashwin has played all three for 24 wickets at 15.70. There has been some illness within the touring camp, although all trained on Tuesday and Root was confident of having a full squad available.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

England LLWWW
India WWLWD

In the spotlight

Dom Bess was dropped for the second and third Tests, having taken 17 wickets at 22.75 across both of England’s Tests in Sri Lanka and the first Test in Chennai – all of which England won. In that time he also averaged 22.75 with the bat and, if England’s third-Test innings of 112 and 81 are anything to go by, runs down the order would be welcome.

Despite his creditable record on this tour, there was a feeling that Bess had at times bowled ugly. He sent down 19 full tosses in the opening Test in Chennai and, assessing his own first-day five-for in Galle, he said: “I didn’t feel like I bowled very well”. But given that he is young and learning in the toughest of conditions, there were legitimate questions over which would cause the greatest damage to his confidence, sticking with him or dropping him. Leaving him out was easy enough to explain when England had someone with the experience of Moeen Ali to replace him for the second India Test and plumped for a seam-heavy attack in the third. But with Moeen sent home to rest and spin very much in play here, he could well be called upon to regain England’s faith.

It’s perhaps harsh to question Virat Kohli given that he has three half-centuries from his past six Test innings, including his second-innings 62 in response to his first-innings duck at Chennai. But such is the weight of expectation that the fact he has gone 11 innings since his last ton – against Bangladesh in late 2019 – that questions have indeed been asked. Scores of 11, 72, 0, 62 and 27 against England suggest he will be hungry to make an even bigger contribution, especially with the chance to propel his side to the WTC showcase. But while his satisfaction with the pitches in this series seems at odds with his returns, he is unconcerned. Having described the batting from both sides in the third Test as “not up to standard” he said on the eve of this match that he felt “no haste or desperation” personally, as long as his side is winning.

Team news

With Bess a likely inclusion, one of England’s seamers would make way, possibly Stuart Broad, who is wicketless from the two matches he has played. Having acquitted himself well with four wickets in the second Test in Chennai, Olly Stone could come in for Jofra Archer, who has taken four wickets from his two games, although Mark Wood is also waiting in the wings after resting for the first half of the series.

With Jasprit Bumrah out for personal reasons as India manage his workload, Umesh Yadav could come into the India line-up, fit again after injuring his calf in Australia and seeming to hold the edge over Mohammed Siraj. Otherwise, it is hard to see the hosts tinkering further with a successful side.

England (possible): 1 Zak Crawley, 2 Dom Sibley, 3 Jonny Bairstow, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Ollie Pope, 7 Ben Foakes (wk), 8 Dom Bess, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Jack Leach, 11 Stuart Broad / James Anderson

India (possible): 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (captain), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rishab Pant (wk), 7 Ravichandran Ashwin, 8 Washington Sunar, 9 Axar Patel, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Umesh Yadav

Pitch and conditions

A similar surface to the last is widely anticipated for this Test and, from a result perspective, that ought to serve India reasonably well, even if Joe Root’s remarkable bowling figures are a reminder that they’ll also need to bat better to guard against mishaps. Temperatures forecast in the high 30s Celsius throughout makes for one certainty, it’ll be a scorcher.

Stats and trivia

  • India have not lost a series at home since 2012, vs England
  • Should Root extract a victory from his men, he will pull clear of Michael Vaughan as England’s most successful Test captain with 27 wins
  • India have not lost two Tests in a home series since 2012
  • Yadav is four wickets away from becoming only the fifth India fast bowler to pick up 100 wickets at home

    Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo

Virat Kohli: ‘The defensive aspect of the game has fallen behind’

Virat Kohli remains adamant in his view that there was little wrong with the pitch for the pink-ball Test in Ahmedabad, and that the game ended in two days because of poor batting. On the eve of the fourth Test – which will be played at the same venue but with the red ball in daytime – Kohli suggested, in fact, that having to switch constantly between limited-overs cricket and Test cricket has caused defensive techniques to deteriorate.

“Defence is very important,” Kohli said in his pre-match press conference. “From the pattern I’ve seen in Test cricket – take any match, if two batsmen are facing a 45-minute period of difficult bowling, are they able to score 10 runs and survive without offering any chances? I think because of the influence of white-ball cricket, we’re getting results in Test cricket, but we also have this byproduct that defence, which is also a part of the game, is getting compromised.

“This is why people say score 300-350 quickly. I don’t think they focus on that grind of four or five sessions these days, probably because they don’t focus on defence so much, because they’re needing to switch formats, and the game is very fast-paced.

“I think there is a requirement for skill in playing on spinning tracks, and not necessarily just playing the sweep. You find your own method, and from my point of view, my best solution is a defensive shot, where I know I can defend and the ball won’t go to silly point or short leg, and that’s an aspect of the game that’s fallen behind.”

Pitches remained the major theme of his press conference, but Kohli addressed a number of other issues too, including questions relating to a couple of members of India’s squad.

On whether turning tracks are subject to unfair criticism

“There’s always too much noise and too much conversation about spinning tracks. I’m sure that if our media is in a space to contradict those views or present views that say that it is unfair to criticise only spinning tracks, then I think it’ll be a balanced conversation. But the unfortunate bit is that everyone sort of plays along with that narrative and just keeps making it news till the time it is relevant.

“A Test match happens, and if we win on day four or five no one says anything, but if a match finishes in two days, everyone pounces on the same issue. It just becomes an issue to talk about. We lost in New Zealand on day three, in 36 overs. I’m sure none of our people as well wrote about the pitch. It was all about how India played badly in New Zealand. And none of the pitches were criticised. No one came and saw how much the pitch was doing, how much the ball was moving, and how much grass there was on the pitches. “

On whether the red ball will behave differently on the Motera pitch compared to the pink one

“I don’t understand why the cricket ball, the cricket pitch, all these things are brought into focus. Why don’t we just focus on the fact that the batsmen were just not skilled enough on that pitch to play properly, and it was a bizarre display of batting by both teams in a Test match, and I will continue to maintain that, because I’ve played this game long enough to understand what happens on the cricket field. And it’s not a change in the ball colour or the change in the cricket ball, it’s still round, it still weighs five and a half ounces, so I don’t know what difference it makes suddenly.

“The surface in Chennai was different in the [previous] game. This track has more pace than that. You could see with the fast bowlers as well, none of the balls went through on the Chennai track like it did for Ishant in those first couple of overs or for Bumrah as well. So the track in general has a bit more pace, and that’s the result of the clay that’s been laid in on the pitch. So it’s very important to understand these small-little details of the game.”

On whether there’s a need for boards to ensure pitches don’t provide undue home advantage

“It would be lovely if you asked us this question on an England/New Zealand/Australia tour. Not when you’ve seen two turning pitches in India, so that question for me is irrelevant at this point of time.”

On Cheteshwar Pujara being dismissed by left-arm spin in three out of five innings

“The fact of the matter is, till about four years ago, he was criticised for not scoring away from home. He was [spoken of as] only a home-track bully, and only scored in India. Now he’s performing for you everywhere outside of India, and a few innings where every batsman has struggled, barring maybe Rohit and a couple of innings from [others] – Ash (R Ashwin) played well, Jinks (Ajinkya Rahane) got a fifty, I got a couple – it’s not been easy. So if you now start criticising his game at home, then I don’t think that’s fair on him.

“He’s a world-class performer, has been for us for a long period of time, and I will keep saying this again and again – along with Jinks, Pujara is our most important Test player, he will continue to be so. Every cricketer, every batsman, faces some sort of challenges in terms of a couple of areas where they might find a need for improvement, that happens to all of us constantly, and he’s a very responsible guy who will first and foremost go into the nets, bats more than anyone else to iron out his flaws, and I’m sure that he’ll keep solidifying his game moving forward, but there’s absolutely no concern whatsoever when it comes to Cheteshwar Pujara. “

On Kuldeep Yadav’s limited opportunities

“There’s no issues with skill, there’s no issues with headspace. His game is absolutely precise, bowling better than he’s ever bowled before. [It’s about] combinations. We need to make sure that we cover all facets of the game, and we have our strongest balanced squad on the park. See, if a [Ravindra] Jadeja is playing and you’re talking about a third spinner, then a Kuldeep comes into the picture way more because of Jadeja’s experience with the bat, and the number of times he’s done the job for the team.

“Right now we’re going in with Ash, Washy (Washington Sundar) is playing, Axar [Patel] is playing. Washy has scored a few runs, Axar is relatively new to Test cricket, so yes, they can contribute with the bat, but it’s not the same experience as a Jadeja, so your combination becomes different. When a Jadeja comes in you know, you’re assured that he’s responsible, he’s going to do the job for the team, and he knows that he’s done it again and again and again, so you can play a Kuldeep who’s primarily a wristspinning bowler. But yeah, it’s all about combinations. If people are not good enough, they won’t be part of Team India. It’s as simple as that. He’s a very, very skillful bowler, and he’ll always be in consideration to play whatever game is in front of us, purely because of what he brings with the ball, and yeah, his game is as good as it’s ever been.”

“A Test match happens, and if we win on day four or five no one says anything, but if a match finishes in two days, everyone pounces on the same issue. It just becomes an issue to talk about”

Virat Kohli on criticism of turning pitches

On whether it’s right for teams to rotate their players in Test cricket

“I feel any format of the game is the right place for rotation. No human being can possibly go on for that many games throughout the year. Everyone needs to find windows of having some time off, having a break, especially with the bubble format, and the kind of systems you have to follow in the bubble, it can get very monotonous, and it’s very difficult to keep yourself excited about small things. I think these are things that need to be considered for as long as we play in the bubble. Outside of that, I think it depends on where you stand physically, more than mentally, but I think till the bubble exists, we need to keep the mental factor in the picture as well, because mental fatigue could be a huge, huge factor – playing within a restricted area, moving around within a restricted area.

So yeah, these are things that one needs to be aware of, and hence our bench strength becomes way more important, because if you have guys who are hungry, ready, who read the game well, who understand where the game is heading, and are brave enough to take on opportunities or situations to take the team forward, then you can rotate very easily. You know there are 11 more guys who are ready to win a Test match for India, or a one-dayer or a T20, and that’s exactly what we’re striving towards, and we have a clear roadmap as to where we need to go in the next 4-5 years, so that our transition is not difficult at all – guys are ready, people can take breaks accordingly, as and when it’s required, and yeah, we have a clear plan that we need to move forward with. “

On the World Test Championship’s impact on the game

“If you want me to be brutally honest, it might work for teams who are not that motivated to play Test cricket. Teams like us, who are motivated to play Test cricket and want to win Test matches and keep Indian cricket team at the top of the world in Test cricket, we have no issues whatsoever, whether it’s a World Test Championship or not. I think for teams like us, it’s only a distraction when you start thinking of the World Test Championship.

“Eventually it’s only a game of cricket. Even that game, a World Cup final, semi-final, anything you take, it’s a game of cricket at the end of the day, and if you’re not motivated to play a normal game of cricket and you’re extra-motivated to play a game of cricket which has some incentive to it, for me, as an individual, that’s unacceptable, and we as a team have never played with that mindset.

‘We’ll be hoping they can do the job’ – Australia willing England to win against India as they eye WTC final spot

Preview

Australia need England to level the series 2-2 in Ahmedabad to qualify to play New Zealand

England will have some unusual support in their final Test against India with Australia, perhaps through gritted teeth, hoping their arch rivals can secure victory to give them a place in the World Test Championship final.

Australia have needed favours from England throughout the series since their tour of South Africa was postponed due to Covid-19, taking it out of their hands whether they will qualify to play New Zealand in the late-June encounter.

There were a variety of series outcomes that would have put Australia through, but the only one left is for England to level the scoreline at 2-2 in Ahmedabad. England’s two-day defeat in the third Test put England themselves out of the running for the final.

“[There’s a] bit of self-interest there for us. We’ll be hoping they can do the job there,” Andrew McDonald, Australia’s assistant coach who is in charge of the team in New Zealand, said.

“It’s going to be difficult for them, no doubt, some of the surfaces have been conducive to spin bowling and probably India’s strengths in their ability to play spin as well. We wish them well. See what unfolds, it’s out of our hands but we’ll be watching along with interest.

“Think most people have been watching that series with some great interest in terms of the conditions and the short nature of the Tests has been very interesting to watch from afar.”

If it had not been for points docked for a slow over-rate against India in Melbourne, Australia would have qualified for the final once their South Africa tour was called off. If they do not sneak through with England’s help it will mean their next Test cricket will not be until late this year with the Ashes or potentially a one-off match against Afghanistan beforehand.

For his part, Joe Root, the England captain, said he wouldn’t see beating India as doing Australia a favour.

“I would see it as us ending the series as a drawn series and us doing something special here in India,” Root said. “Unfortunately we can’t qualify for that final, but it would be a fantastic achievement for us to have drawn this series and as an England captain that is about as much as I can say.”

New Zealand, meanwhile, can watch it all unfold having booked their spot in the final weeks ago, and they weren’t stating a preference of opponent. “It’s out of my hands,” coach Gary Stead said. “I know it’s either going to be India or Australia, we’ve put England to side, but it doesn’t really worry me.”

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

Fourth-Test victory would be a ‘phenomenal’ achievement – Joe Root

Joe Root believes England would have achieved something “phenomenal” if they win the final Test against India.

Although the possibility of winning the series, or reaching the final of the World Test Championship, has gone, Root is adamant that winning in Ahmedabad – and therefore securing a 2-2 draw in the series – would “be a brilliant achievement” and leaves his team with “loads to play for” going into the fourth Test.

While Root’s ambition may, on the surface, appear relatively modest, it is worth viewing in context of India’s long-term home record. India have not lost two Tests in a home series since 2012 – when England won 1-2; the last time they were beaten at home in a series – and have only lost that many twice (once in 2000, when South Africa defeated them 0-2) since the end of 1984. To draw the series 2-2, therefore, and complete a six-game run in Asia with four victories might reasonably be seen as a significant achievement.

That achievement might be deemed even more impressive given the margin of defeat in the previous couple of games. India won the second Test by 317 runs and the third by 10 wickets meaning England will have to demonstrate impressive powers of resilience to respond with a win.

“You look at India’s record at home in recent times and it’s incredible,” Root said. “So, for us to come away with a drawn series would be a really good achievement, especially off the back of the last two games.

“We’ve had two challenging weeks but that doesn’t define us as a team. We need to look at this as a real opportunity to do something special.

“It would be a brilliant achievement to leave here two-all. It would be a monumental effort from this group of players. So there’s loads to play for.”

While Root is keeping his options open in terms of selection, he did hint that off-spinning all-rounder Dom Bess was likely to return. England have accepted they “got it wrong” in terms of going into the previous Test with four seamers and only one specialist spinner and, although Root claimed 5-8 in India’s first innings, he retains few pretensions as a bowler. With another turning track anticipated in the final Test, Bess might both boost the spin attack and add a little solidity to a tail that stretched beyond the horizon in the previous game.

“If the pitch looks anything like the last one, he’ll be licking his lips at the opportunity,” Root said. “He is certainly in contention for selection. He is a very skilful young player that is very ambitious and will be desperate to make his mark.

“You look at the side for last match: we got that wrong in terms of the way we selected the team; we read the pitch wrong. We looked at the conditions and how the ball had behaved and the previous pink ball Test in India and we got it wrong. We didn’t envisage it to spin as much.

“If the pitch is anything like the last one, of course Dom would be a fantastic option. His skill levels are far above mine. He will be very much looking forward to bowling on it. We’re definitely expecting this pitch to spin. That’s been a big part of our focus in training so we’re as prepared as we can be going into this game.

“There is not a comparison between me and Dom: he is a far more talented bowler than me. He’s got 17 wickets already this winter and definitely, if he is in the side, he is above me in the pecking order. It was nice to contribute last time, but if we play two spinners they’ll be doing the bulk of the bowling, they are far more skilled than I am.”

While Root is confident he will have an entire squad from which to select his side, he did admit there had been some illness in the England camp in recent days. Everyone was able to train on Tuesday, however, boosting Root’s hopes that England can achieve the victory that would draw the series; a result that might, perhaps, provoke comparison to the 2019 result at The Oval when England won the final Test to draw the series against Australia.

“At the minute, everyone’s seems to be okay,” Root said. “We managed to draw that 2019 series so it would be great for us to again come out of this one in a similar fashion. To leave here with a drawn series would be a really fine achievement for a relatively inexperienced side.

“It would certainly be up there [with my greatest achievements as captain]. The progress we’ve made over the last couple of years has been really pleasing, especially away from home. If we end up winning this game it’d be four wins out of six Tests on this tour.

“It would be a phenomenal achievement from the players to have found a way in some very foreign and difficult conditions. So it’s a great motivator for us as a side and I’d be extremely proud of everyone involved if we managed to do that.”

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Mumbai, Saurashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala through to Vijay Hazare quarter-finals

Mumbai, Saurashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Kerala have filled up the last four automatic qualification spots for the quarter-final stage of the Vijay Hazare Trophy. They join Gujarat, Andhra, and Karnataka, who had sealed qualification on Sunday by topping their respective groups. The eighth quarter-finalist will be decided by a playoff between Delhi, who finished eighth on the combined Elite division points table, and Uttarakhand, who finished as toppers of the Plate group.

This season’s format has the top-placed teams of the five Elite division groups qualifying automatically, alongside the top two teams on points from a combined Elite division table. Mumbai won their last Group D game by 200 runs against Himachal Pradesh to finish top with five wins in five games, while Saurashtra stayed on top of Group E with 16 points despite their first loss of the season to Services.

For the other two automatic qualification spots, the teams in contention were UP and Kerala (both from Group C with 16 points), Baroda (Group A, 16 points) and Delhi (Group D, 16 points). Baroda lost out to Delhi on net run-rate, while UP’s and Kerala’s vastly superior NRRs ensured they qualified as the sixth- and seventh-placed teams.

The Plate division, which plays as one group, had two teams – Uttarakhand and Assam – finish with five wins in five games. But Uttarakhand’s NRR in excess of +3 was far too much for Assam to better on the final day of the league stage. As a result, it will be Uttarakhand who play Delhi for the last quarter-final spot.

Group D

Mumbai began the day all-but-qualified, on 16 points with an NRR boosted by their explosiveness against Puducherry last week. They fell to 49 for 4 against HP after electing to bat and it took three of their most senior players – Suryakumar Yadav (91 off 75), Aditya Tare (83 off 98) and Shardul Thakur (92 off 57) – to not only rescue them but put them far beyond the reach of HP, who folded for 121 in a chase of 322. Legspinner Prashant Solanki, in his debut season for the Mumbai senior team, took 4 for 32 to take his tally to 11 wickets in three matches. Left-arm spinner Shams Mulani took 3 for 42, including the wicket that ended the game.

Delhi‘s bowlers arrested Rajasthan‘s charge in the slog overs and bowled them out for 294, before an unbeaten 117 from Himmat Singh, and his unbroken 183-run stand with Nitish Rana (88 off 75) helped them win by eight wickets with more than five overs to spare. Rajasthan had been on course for bigger runs on the back of Manender Singh‘s 73 and Arjit Gupta‘s 51-ball 78 before Simarjeet Singh (4 for 36) and Pradeep Sangwan (3 for 62) intervened.

In the only other Group D match, Maharashtra‘s Yash Nahar made 119 to end his maiden List A season with 390 runs in five matches. That knock in a big partnership with Ankit Bawne, who made 110, and Rahul Tripathi‘s 30-ball 59, combined to help Maharasthra put up 333 for 4 and win by 137 runs. Kedar Jadhav bowled a 10-over spell that went for 34 and got him two wickets.

Group E

A career-best 158 for Rahul Singh Gahlaut helped Services pick up their second win of the season, and upset of table-toppers Saurashtra. After being put in and falling to 26 for 4, it took a 182-run stand between Gahlaut and wicketkeeper Devender Lochab (64 off 86) to lift Services past 200. They scored at more than ten an over in the last eight overs, a 21-ball 43 from former Delhi allrounder Pulkit Narang helping them get to 301 for 7. Saurashtra’s middle order collapsed in chase, courtesy of left-arm spinner Rahul Khajan Singh‘s 4 for 45, and medium-pacer Varun Choudhary‘s 3 for 62. They fell short by 68 runs with about seven overs to spare.

Meanwhile, Jammu & Kashmir made light work of chasing down Chandigarh‘s 241. Shubham Khajuria‘s 120 off 86 balls, and Henan Nazir‘s – playing only his second game – unbeaten 110 off 88 balls formed a partnership of 183 that came in fewer than 24 overs as they won with eight wickets and 16 overs to spare. Umar Nazir, Parvez Rasool, and Auqib Nabi had previously taken three wickets each.

Bengal‘s campaign ended with a loss to Haryana at the Eden Gardens. All five of Haryana’s bowlers were among the wickets, led by Sanjay Pahal‘s 3 for 32, as the hosts folded for 177. In response, Haryana had fifties from both openers – Chaitanya Bishnoi and Shubham Rohilla – anchoring different parts of their chase as they won by five wickets. They did, however, finish bottom of the table.

Plate division

Left-handed Kamal Singh made his first ton in senior cricket to help Uttarakhand post 306 against Sikkim. Sikkim’s response never took off, and they ended their campaign with the aim to bat out 50 overs – which they did, finishing on 161 for 6.

In the other Plate matches, Assam and Meghalya followed similar templates – putting up scores in excess of 300 and winning by 83 and 182 runs respectively against Manipur and Mizoram.

The only match to buck that trend involved Nagaland chasing down 287 with eight wickets and just about as many overs to spare. Captain Rongsen Jonathan and Shrikant Mundhe both made centuries, while allrounder Stuart Binny capped his 100th List A game with a 37-ball 55 to see them home against Arunachal Pradesh, who had been fueled by an unbeaten 138 from Rahul Dalal earlier.

Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Ben Foakes admits England expect more of the same from Ahmedabad pitch

Expecting more of the testing conditions they faced in their hefty defeat inside two days in Ahmedabad, Ben Foakes says England will be better equipped to level the series against India in the final match, starting at the same ground on Thursday.

Foakes was among a handful of players in the touring squad who trained at the Narendra Modi Stadium in on Sunday, the day the third Test was due to finish had England not been defeated by 10 wickets three days earlier. After the training session, Foakes said the Motera surface would be less of a mystery second time round and it was up to his team to work out how to fare better in conditions he described as the toughest he’d played in.

“I was at training today and from the look of it I think it’ll be pretty similar,” Foakes said via Zoom. “I don’t think we’re concerned. We know what we’re going to get and I guess they’re pushing their conditions to the extremities. We know it’s going to spin considerably from ball one so it’s about trying to find a way to play well in those conditions and understand they’re going to be challenging.”

The state of the pitch was the subject of much conjecture and the skiddiness of the pink ball was deemed to be a factor in a match described by Virat Kohli, the India captain, as “bizarre” after England were routed by ten wickets. The visitors collapsed to scores of 112 and 81 in their two innings, while India scarcely fared any better in their first innings, with Joe Root claiming 5 for 8 with his part-time offbreaks as batsmen found survival tough.

But Foakes admitted – as his captain, Root, did immediately after the match – that England were “thoroughly outplayed”. And, while the final match will feature a return to the red ball and daytime play, Foakes said the solution for England was relatively simple as they set out to level the series 2-2.

“Firstly not getting too down our ourselves after the last couple of innings,” he said. “Trying to keep a positive, clear mindset because when you’re struggling your judgement can get clouded and things can go badly. It’s about trying to keep a clear mind, stick to the gameplans and be slightly more positive at times if the situation dictates, but trying to come up with a gameplan that potentially works on that surface now we’ve had experience of what it was like in the last game.

“We’re still in a position to draw in India… we are in with a chance of a pretty awesome achievement if we win this last one. It’s going to be difficult knowing the kind of surface we’re going to play on but we have just got to be better than we were in the last game.”

From batting and wicketkeeping perspectives, Foakes has been in the thick of England’s battle since he arrived to replace the resting Jos Buttler starting with the second Test at Chennai.

There, he acquitted himself particularly well as spin also played a big part in the match, albeit on a more traditional sub-continental pitch. His unbeaten 42 was England’s highest score in their first innings and he completed three stumpings, took two catches and was involved in a run out before they succumbed to a 317-run defeat. In the third Test, meanwhile, 20 of the 30 dismissals were either lbw or bowled.

“From playing on the last two pitches I’ve never seen turn like that,” he said. “They almost feel like day-five pitches from ball one and it’s understanding we are going to get out at times and it’s making peace with a certain way of getting out if it means we can score runs.

“The last two games have been the hardest pitches I’ve kept on. They’ve been challenging and the last game, I think it was to do with the pink ball, the amount it was skidding on or spun, I’d probably never experienced a wicket like that before. So it was a good challenge to keep on and I guess it was one I enjoyed.

“Any time it’s done as much as it has been you’re always in the game. It’s just about trying to do as solid a job as possible and trying to impact the game by stealing a wicket or a stumping – that’s my goal.”

But Foakes was also resigned to making way for Buttler once more when his rest period is over.

“The way I’ve mentally approached the games is it’s three more opportunities to play for England and I’ll try and do as well as I can,” Foakes said. “I’m purely looking at how I can do well in the next game rather than the bigger picture.”

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo

Gujarat, Andhra, Karnataka qualify for Vijay Hazare Trophy quarter-finals

The league phase for three of the Elite Groups in the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2020-21 ended on Sunday, with Gujarat, Andhra and Karnataka topping Groups A, B and C.

The last round of the league phase will take place on Monday, with the teams finishing on top in Elite Groups D and E joining the other three group toppers as automatic quarterfinal entrants.

The format for this year’s tournament has the top teams from each of the five Elite groups progressing to the quarterfinals. They will be joined by the two teams who finish highest on points among all the other Elite Group teams. The team that finishes third on points will play the Plate Group topper in a pre quarter-final, and the winner of that match will be the eighth quarter-finalist.

Sunday’s games were marked by several teams going hard to improve their net run-rates, with a view to qualifying.

Group A

Gujarat came out triumphant in a top-of-table clash against Baroda, maintaining a clean slate to finish on top of the group, while Baroda finished second. Dhruv Raval (102 off 129) and Het Patel (82 off 84) were the fulcrum around which Gujarat put up 277 for 7, and Baroda could only muster 237 for 9 in response. Piyush Chawla (3 for 52), Chintan Gaja (2 for 40) and Arzan Nagwaswalla (2 for 47) were the main wicket-takers for Gujarat.

Gujarat finished on 20 points from five games, while Baroda had 16, with a net run-rate of 0.399.

Group B

At the Daly College Ground in Indore, Andhra ensured their net run-rate would be the highest in Group B, romping to victory against Jharkhand in 9.5 overs after bowling them out 139. Harishankar Reddy led the way with the ball, taking 4 for 30. Andhra’s chase blasted off with an 82-run opening stand that came in just 5.5 overs, Ashwin Hebbar (44 off 18) and Ricky Bhui (57* off 27) ensuring a quick finish and a passage into the quarter-finals. Jharkhand would have been through to the quarter-finals if they had won.

Elswhere in Indore at the Emerald High School Ground, Tamil Nadu completed a big win over Vidarbha. Having bowled Vidarbha out for 150 in 41 overs, Tamil Nadu got to 152 for 5 in 11.2 overs. B Aparajith opened the bowling for Tamil Nadu and took 3 for 10 in six overs, while J Kousik (3 for 22) and M Mohammed (3 for 33) also had three-wicket hauls. Mohammed completed a fine all-round day with 37 not out off 14 balls, with N Jagadeesan’s 18-ball 48 the other notable score.

Madhya Pradesh overcame Punjab by 105 runs in an action-packed match at the Holkar Cricket Stadium in Indore, but it wasn’t enough to secure qualification. MP put up 402 for 3, powered by Venkatesh Iyer’s 198 off 146, with Aditya Shrivastava blasting 88* off 56. Punjab’s chase ended at 297 all out in 42.3 overs, but they had their moments with opener Abhishek Sharma smashing a 49-ball 104, having got to his century off just 42 balls.

Four teams ended up on 12 points in Group B – Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. None of the other three can make the quarterfinals however, due to at least three other teams among the Elite Groups ending up with higher than 12 points.

Group C

Three teams ended up on 16 points – Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. All three had a high net run-rate, having ended the league phase with comprehensive wins, but Karnataka’s was the highest at 1.834. However, UP (1.559) and Kerala (1.244) have ensured that they might still be in the running for the quarterfinals.

Karnataka’s openers led the team to a ten-wicket win at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium with a mammoth stand, after Railways had made 284 for 9 built around Pratham Singh’s 129. Shreyas Gopal’s 3 for 41 were the best figures, but the real stars of the day were R Samarth (130* off 118) and Devdutt Padikkal (145* off 125), as Karnataka completed victory in 40.3 overs.

Shivam Sharma, the 20-year-old left-arm spinner, took 6 for 22 as Uttar Pradesh bowled Odisha out for 148 in 40.1 overs. The UP batsmen then hauled in the target in 21.4 overs, losing four wickets.

At the Alur 3 cricket ground, Kerala bowled Bihar out for 148 in 40.2 overs, and then chased down the target in just 8.5 overs. Robin Uthappa continued his good form in the tournament, smashing 87 not out off 32, while Vishnu Vinod (37 off 12) and Sanju Samson (24* off 9) were equally destructive in a nine-wicket win. Uthappa reached his half-century in 22 balls, and hit four fours and 10 sixes overall. S Sreesanth took 4 for 30 while Jalaj Saxena, who opened the bowling with Sreesanth, was among the wickets too, with 3 for 30.

For the three teams in the Elite Groups already on 16 points but who haven’t qualified yet – Baroda, UP and Kerala – their chances will depend on how other results go in Groups D and E. While UP have the highest net run-rate, followed by Kerala, Baroda are some way behind with 0.399.

Group D

Mumbai have an all-win record with 16 points in four games, and play Himachal Pradesh in their final game. Mumbai’s net run-rate is a massive 2.268 – the highest in the league phase in the Elite Groups – so they should fancy their chances of qualifying even if they lose their last game. Delhi are on 12 points, and could reach 16 if they win their last league game, against Rajasthan. Delhi’s net run-rate is 0.473 though, and they’ll be looking to boost that considerably even while needing a win.

Group E

Saurashtra have won all games so far and are on 16 points. They play Services in their last league match. Their net run-rate is 1.133, lower than both UP and Kerala, so they will need a win to ensure automatic progression. Chandigarh are second, with 12 points, and play Jammu & Kashmir in their final league game. Chandigarh’s net run-rate however, is -0.213 so even a massive win in their final game might not be enough to take them to the quarter-finals.

Uttarakhand and Assam are both on 16 points in the Plate Group, and will play different opponents in their last league matches (Sikkim and Mizoram), but Uttarakhand’s net run-rate of 3.538 – as against Assam’s 1.382 – means they should qualify for the pre-quarterfinals from the Plate Group if points are equal.

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo