The cricket third test between India and England begins in Kolkata on Wednesday (3am GMT) and if either take the win then they will secure an unassailable lead in the series.
That would have been an unthinkable statement after India swept aside the tourists in Ahmedabad but a serious improvement in the England ranks has left this intriguing series wide open.
Had India been leading by a two test margin then we might have expected a flat track in Ahmedabad that would have offered no help to the bowlers. With the series level however, a result wicket is certain so you can probably dismiss the draw at this stage.
Both teams have selection issues ahead of this third test and England will have to decide whether to recall Steven Finn for the ineffective Stuart Broad. Finn took four wickets for the England Performance squad earlier in the week and it would be a major surprise if the selectors didn’t make the switch but it’s doubtful as to how much influence the pacemen will have.
Once again, the key as far as England’s bowling is concerned lies with the twin spin attack of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann who took 19 of the 20 Indian wickets to fall in the second test. Monty in particular made the difference from the poor display in Ahmedabad and India’s batsmen will be working on ways to combat the left armer’s unusual pace and bounce.
India themselves have named an unchanged squad and it seems unlikely that there will be any changes from the XI that started the second test. The hosts could revert to a two man seam attack by leaving out Harbhajan Singh and recalling Ishant Sharma. Dhoni’s men know that their best chance of winning is to expose England’s weakness to a world class spin attack.
Dhoni will also know that while the tourists seemed to overcome those spin issues with a 400+ total in Mumbai, this England side is relying heavily on runs from Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen. Those are India’s two key wickets and if India can dismiss both men cheaply then they will surely win this third test.
The England selectors will have to decide between Jonny Bairstow and Ian Bell in the crucial number five position. Bell has returned to the squad after attending the birth of his first child but is by no means guaranteed of an automatic inclusion. A strong option here is to drop Samit Patel at number six and strengthen the batting by including both Bell and Bairstow in the middle order.
India’s batting line up is almost certain to be unchanged, despite concerns over Sachin Tendulkar’s form. While Cheteshwar Pujara remains the key wicket, England will know that the likes of Tendulkar and Virat Kohli can easily rediscover their touch and take this game away from them.
England will have greater confidence ahead of this match but the visitors would feel more comfortable if all of their batsmen were contributing. If India snare Cook and Pietersen early, they will offer full value for those 5/4 odds.