It was only a week ago that India botched up the second innings in the third Test, after having batted themselves into a position of comfort. To their agony, the state of this match is somewhat similar to what it was at Headingley.
There, India were 215 for two at stumps on third day as England skipper Joe Root agreed to an early call-off as he couldn’t unleash the fast bowlers with new ball owing to light issues. On the morning session of the fourth day, India stuttered and were bundled out for 250 runs, losing eight wickets for 60 runs. The big difference from the third Test to this one is that while India were trailing by 217 runs in Leeds, they are leading by 171 runs here. However, an early collapse in the first session could still spell trouble for the visitors.
If it was just one match, the collapse in the third Test could be passed off as an aberration. But the Headingley Test is not the only instance. Since the start of 2020 alone, India have suffered fatal first-session collapses in at least two other matches. India had lost eight wickets for 27 runs in the Adelaide Test in the first session of day three against Australia, while in Wellington against New Zealand, they lost six wickets for 47 runs. The Virat Kohli-led side went on to comprehensively lose both the Tests.
Overall, in Tests since 2020, India have lost 39 wickets at an average of 14.8 and a balls/dismissal ratio of 32.7 in the third innings. Comparatively, the first session has been the worst for India in the third innings.
Session one, for some reason, has proved to be their Achilles Heel. In the aforementioned timeframe India have lost 116 wickets in the first session, which is 54 wickets more than their tally of 62 wickets lost in the second. India have lost a wicket every 20.3 runs and 44.9 balls in the first session of a Test, which is the worst among all the teams in Tests since 2020. Their runs/dismissal ratio of 14.8 and balls/dismissal ratio of 32.7 in the third innings is also the worst among all teams that have played two or more innings in the aforementioned time.
Factors that fall in India's favour
But fears and apprehensions aside, there are a few factors that always go in a team’s favour and for India, there are reasons to rejoice. The first and foremost is the overhead conditions. After batting a full day in cloudy conditions, day four is expected to start with bright sunny spells and is predicted to stay the same throughout. A much-needed help for the visitors.
Secondly, the pitch has already shown how good it is to bat on. The Oval has been a good strip to bat on in the first session of day four. In fact, the best one in Tests since 2015. Batting teams have averaged 41.5 and lost a wicket every 77.6 balls, which is the best among all venues in England that has seen three or more innings. To be precise, The Oval is the only venue where batting teams have averaged 30 in the first session of the fourth day.
However, there is a concern in this as well. If the first session has been the best for batting, the second has seen wickets fall at regular intervals. The balls/dismissal ratio drops to 45.4, the worst for a venue with three or more innings. Even though the numbers are against the batters in the second session, if India bat through the first session with minimal damage then the morale of the English bowlers will be affected. This could reverse the effect and hand India the upper hand. It is a big ‘if’, though. India’s first objective should be to get to lunch unscathed.