Stokes
Should Gareth Batty replace Zafar Ansari? AFP

England are 1-0 down after the first two contests, and so were they in the last two series against India, eventually lifting the trophy. As a result, it won’t come as a surprise if Alastair Cook‘s men give a tough time to Virat Kohli’s in-form troops. All the same, they so far have put up a good show compared to what the fallible New Zealand did last month. Four centurions, spinners catching the hosts in maze, pacers exhibiting a disciplined display: so far so good for England. However, there are a few loopholes in the team composition. Let us walk through England’s likely XI for the third Test at Mohali: LIVE SCORECARD, INDIA vs ENGLAND, 3rd TEST AT MOHALI

Top order: It goes without saying that England will play the same top order for years to come, for they finally found a class-apart opener in the 19-year-old Haseeb Hameed. Scores of 31, 82, 13 and 25 in his first four innings explains his show of character. Termed ‘Baby Boycott’ in the English domestic cricket, Hameed helps his captain lay a strong foundation for the middle order. To make matters more commanding, he pursues the art of conventional cricket, putting a price on his wicket.

On the other hand, Cook is on the verge of becoming the first Englishman to reach 11,000 runs in the longest format. With a hundred to his name already in this series, he will play a pivotal role at Mohali to level the series 1-1.

Joe Root. Enough said. He oozes panache and vigour with his blade. In fact, he loves playing in India, for his gritty half century on debut was the start of good things to come. And a hundred and a fifty so far evidences the fact.

Middle order: We saw Ben Duckett miserably struggling against the spinners. Hanging back instead of getting to the pitch of the ball has led to his downfall. For that matter, Gary Ballance failed to churn out runs in Bangladesh. Hence, these two are likely to warm the bench, making way for Jos Buttler.

“Jos is an extremely talented cricketer and we’ve all seen that in the one-day and Twenty20 format. He’s right up there with the best short-form players in the world and he’s earned an opportunity to come and play here,” Cook said in the pre-match press conference.

However, Cook prefers having Bairstow up the order. “He [Bairstow] had a glint in his eye when I said we’d like you to move up to five. It gives him more chance to bat. He bats at five and keeps at Yorkshire so he’s used to that role.”

This also means that Moeen will get a chance to bat at No. 4 with Stokes at No. 6 and Buttler at No. 7. However, given the context of the team composition, Buttler playing down the order would be a blessing in disguise for England, for he can use the long handle to a devastating effect.

Talking about Duckett, Cook added, “Ben won’t be the only good player who has been dropped. He has an England future. There is no doubt about it, because he is a very talented guy with a lot ahead of him. When I chatted to him he said he thought he was a pretty decent player of spin. And he is. But he just has an issue which unfortunately has been found out quite quickly which can happen in this part of the world in international cricket.”

Bowlers: Zafar Ansari’s role in the last two matches was difficult to decipher. On the other hand, Stuart Broad has been declared unfit for the third Test. Cook added, “You wouldn’t know that his foot was as bad as it was. But the specialist’s advice is that there is a risk of it going totally and he would then be out for a period of time.”

“They were quite surprised how well he got through those four-and-a-half days after doing it in the third or fourth over of the match. If he played here and did more damage to the tendon in the second over then you’d look stupid.”

Therefore, Chris Woakes and Gareth Batty will get a nod.

Woakes was awarded Man of the Series in the England-Pakistan series for his stellar contribution with both bat and ball.

With a slight niggle in the series opener and James Anderson in the ranks, the all-rounder was left out of the starting XI of the second Test. But now that Broad is injured, Woakes will pair up Anderson to bowl the new ball.

The nature of the Mohali track has changed over the years. It no longer provides good carry for the pacers. To put things into perspective, it is just another subcontinental track that assists the spinners. And England favour playing three spinners. For that matter, Adil Rashid has been effective enough with Moeen. But given Ansari’s recent form, England have no option but to play the off-spinner Gareth Batty.

Batty has represented England in 8 matches, taking 15 wickets 56.6. The numbers, nonetheless, may not speak volumes, but replacing him with Ansari is the need of the hour.

Likely XI: Alastair Cook (c), Haseeb Hameed, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Gareth Batty, James Anderson

(Kaustubh S. Mayekar, a reporter at CricketCountry, played cricket at U-16 level. Like his idol Rahul Dravid, he often shadow-practises cricket shots. His Twitter handle is @kaumedy_)