India will aim to stay on cruise control in this southern coastal city tied to the sinking of the Titanic when they take on England in the fourth Test, starting at the Ageas Bowl on Thursday.
The Titanic set sail from Southampton in April, 1912 and sank in the Atlantic, and the tragedy still echoes everywhere in the city. However, the number of cruise ships, many trans-Atlantic, that call in regularly will also remind Virat Kohli and Co of revival.
India went into the third Test at Trent Bridge 0-2 down amid forecasts of a possible sweep in the five-match series. However, their resilience led to a thumping 203-run victory that has put pressure on the hosts.
The venue is hosting only its third Test. The last one was in 2014, when a battered India crumbled against James Anderson and off-spinner Moeen Ali. England’s master swing bowler is seven short of surpassing Australia’s Glenn McGrath tally of 563 to become the most successful fast bowler ever. And Moeen is also in the frame after his recent match-winning show for Worcestershire (double century and eight wickets). He took eight wickets in that 2014 win.
Focus on Ashwin
There are three key questions going into the game. Can India pull off another win to level the series and go into the final game at The Oval on level terms? Will Kohli, for the first time as skipper, retain the same eleven? And will the pitch, with a tinge of grass, favour pacers or batsmen?
The interest in the Indian camp will be on R Ashwin’s fitness following a groin injury that flared up at Trent Bridge. The off-spinner bowled and batted in the nets on Tuesday, but the team management may have to see whether his mobility on the field will be restricted. Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja was also actively involved in training.
While Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane found form with vital fifties in the third Test, India will hope openers KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan build on the half-century stands they provided at Trent Bridge.
Interestingly, 18-year-old Prithvi Shaw, the U-19 World Cup-winning skipper drafted in as the third opener for the last two Tests, has had long batting stints in the last two days and comes into the side after doing well for India A in England.
Pacers on top
India have never won three Tests in an overseas series, but fast bowler Mohammed Shami has cautioned they will have to take one match at a time. Indian pacers have stood out so far, taking 38 of the 46 wickets in the first three Tests to match England in the department this time. That means a spiteful pitch can hurt England as well.