IND vs ENG: Idyllic Dharamsala ready to host a 'landmarks' Test

As Ravi Ashwin and Bairstow brace for their 100th Test appearances, Anderson is two wickets shy of 700

Ravi Ashwin (second from left) shares a joke with teammates as Rahul Dravid looks on (right) (photo courtesy @BCCI/X)
Ravi Ashwin (second from left) shares a joke with teammates as Rahul Dravid looks on (right) (photo courtesy @BCCI/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

A dead rubber, and that too after more than a week’s gap since the last Test, could have been a dampener even for a India–England joust. However, the one beginning at Dharamsala on Thursday, 7 March, carries enough promise of an absorbing affair — both for the teams and a few specific players.

The only note of worry at the picturesque Himachal Pradesh Cricket Stadium (HPCA), where members of both teams have had some downtime over the last few days, is the chilly weather. The minimum temperature forecast sits at around 5 degrees Celsius. It’s a welcome change for England, though, to find the conditions to their liking!

It will be interesting to see whether either of the camps finds it logical to beef up its two-member pace attack — the norm over the first four Tests.

However, reflecting on the series, Rohit Sharma & Co will have plenty to be happy about, starting with the way they bounced back after that first defeat and the rise of the young brigade, all the way to the series win culminating in them clawing their way to the No.1 spot in the World Test Championship (WTC) standings.

For England, it has been the first series defeat ever since the so-called Bazball philosophy kicked in; but it was far from a one-sided affair like with the other travelling teams that have succumbed on Indian soil over the last decade.

The return of Jasprit Bumrah after a break in Ranchi could be the best thing that the hosts could have wished for, given the conditions, but the extra buzz around Ravi Ashwin — as he braces for his 100th Test appearance — is unmistakeable. It’s a series that the master off-spinner is unlikely to forget in a hurry, as he first kept his date with 500 Test wickets, and now heads for a century of Test matches. (Bonus: As the stats lovers will tell you, there could be another one round the corner for this warrior too!)

Now sitting on 35 five-wicket hauls at par with Anil Kumble, Ashwin will look to go past the legendary leg spinner’s record in Dharamsala itself — if the conditions allow him his customary long spells. Incidentally, Muttiah Muralitharan (67), Shane Warne (37) and Sir Richard Hadlee (36) are the names above Ashwin and Kumble in the list with most fivers in Tests.

While a lot of the focus is on Ashwin, two members of the rival camp are also in sight of their individual landmarks in this Test. Jonny Bairstow, a powerhouse in the middle order but one who has endured a nightmarish series so far, is set to become the 17th England player to appear in 100 Tests and is quite upbeat about it.

Speaking ahead of his landmark, Bairstow said: ‘’It would be nice! Like in every game, you put your best foot forward. No matter what it is, I’ll be going out there, chewing my gum, puffing my chest out and trying to have a good time with the other 10 blokes out there. Whatever the situation is, we’ll be going out there with smiles on our faces, like we have done in the whole series.’’

Incidentally, a certain Jimmy Anderson will be licking his lips at the sight of the conducive conditions in Dharamsala. The 41-year-old, who has gone on record on how it’s a ‘shame’ to have missed out on his last dance with Virat Kohli, needs just two more wickets to reach 700 scalps — the first for a paceman. Only two bowlers in the history of the game — Muralitharan (800) and Warne (709), both spinners — are now ahead of him.

There is another potential landmark awaiting Yashasvi Jaiswal, the 22-year-old southpaw who is having the series of his life. He has been the rock of Indian batting with an aggregate of 655 runs in four Tests, at a superhuman average of 93.57 — and now needs another 135 runs in the final Test to eclipse Sunil Gavaskar’s record of 732 runs from the 1978–79 series against the West Indies.

There is, hence, plenty to play for in the picture postcard surroundings of Dharamsala — albeit with a prayer on everyone’s lips about the weather not turning too harsh.

Catch the match

India vs England

Fifth Test, Dharamsala

Start: 9.30 am, 7 March

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