4th Test: Green-tinged Ageas Bowl pitch raises questions of England’s approach
The Ageas Bowl will host its third Test this week. @Getty

The Ageas Bowl – or The Rose Bowl, as it used to be known – will host its last Test until at least 2025 when India and England engage in the fourth match of the series on Thursday.

The ground, nestled between the M27 motorway and Telegraph Woods in Southampton, is home to Hampshire Cricket Club who have played there since 2001. The Ageas Bowl made its Test debut in 2011, and has hosted two matches overall – between England and Sri Lanka in 2011 and between England and India in 2014. The first was a rain-hit draw and the second a massive win for Alastair Cook’s team, who roared back from 0-1 down in the five-Test series and went on to claim it 3-1.

Southampton usually serves up dry batting tracks, but the first look of The Ageas Bowl two days on from the fourth Test saw the pitch wear a green tinge, not dissimilar to how Lord’s looked ahead of the second Test between India and England. Reports from Southampton indicate that there is a fair amount of bounce in the surface too, which is not what we have seen in the first three Tests.

This raises the question: do England dare to roll out a seam-friendly track for India given how outstandingly Jasprit Bumrah bowled on comeback at Trent Bridge?

England team changes Ageas Bowl
An injury-hit England have several issues heading into the fourth Test. @Getty

Both teams played four fast bowlers in the third Test, and it was India’s quartet that out-bowled England’s in a 203-run victory. So what does The Ageas Bowl have in store? Let’s look at the current English domestic season for some insights.

In four County Championship matches at the venue this summer, 83 wickets have been taken by pace bowlers and 19 by spinners. Back in April, as the county season began on typically seam-friendly surfaces, hosts Hampshire beat Worcestershire by 196 runs. In that game, in which the highest innings total was 290, seam account for 37 wickets and spin just two. Ten days later, Hampshire made 351/7 declared and Essex 300/6 in a rain-hit draw. Of the 13 wickets that fell across 179.3 overs of play, 12 went to the quicks and one to spin.

In the second week of June, Surrey beat Hampshire by an innings after posting 368 and then rolling over the hosts for 135, enforcing the follow-on, and then dispatching them for 175. Twenty-three wickets to pace, five to spin. The key, however, was Rikki Clarke’s military medium, which fetched him seven wickets.

In the next round of County Championship matches, a draw ensued. Twenty wickets to seam, five to spin in 362 overs. In the most recent match at The Ageas Bowl, last week Hampshire beat Nottinghamshire by 270 runs with seam accounting for 28 wickets and spin eight.

Clearly, pace has dominated. But it is also pertinent to note that in the final innings of three of these four county games, spin had a say. Which indicates that Moeen Ali should get the nod, while also adding batting power to the middle order, and that Ravindra Jadeja could be a handful if R Ashwin is not passed fit.

Jasprit Bumrah Trent Bridge
Jasprit Bumrah’s bumper return to India’s Test XI rattled England at Trent Bridge. @Getty

So what should the captain who wins the toss do? The safe assumption would be to bat, since that is the way to go when the pitch is 50-50.

At Lord’s, rainfall made the surface very tough to bat on, and Root’s decision to bowl – after day one was washed out – was where the Test was won. James Anderson and Stuart Broad bowled outstandingly to roll India over for 107, and once the pitch eased out, England shut out Virat Kohli’s team by scoring 396/7 declared.

Trent Bridge was a seaming track, and India made 329 and 352/7 declared – after Joe Root opted to bowl – in comparison to England’s 161 and 317. India taking 10 wickets in a session on day three was where the Test was won, but that is not the norm for either side. India, to their credit, batted far better than England to roar back into the series.

At The Ageas Bowl, England can wrap up the series with victory. If India win, the final Test in London becomes a tantalising decider. Would not not be the perfect end to an enthralling series?