Virat Kohli practice session
Virat Kohli (PA Images)

India may have already lost the five-Test series but the final match of their England tour at the Oval is a chance to start afresh for Virat Kohli and company, reckons former captain Sourav Ganguly. He suggests that India can go with a different, four-bowler, strategy to test how the team reacts to such situation which will also pave the way to blood in youngsters – Prithvi Shaw and Hanuma Vihari.

The fifth and final Test starts from Friday and India are vying to end the series with a win, to give the scoreline a bit of respectability. They currently trail England 1-3 with their sole win coming at Trent Bridge in the third Test.

Following the conclusion of the third Test, 18-year-old Shaw and middle-order batsman Vihari were given a maiden India call-up. Considering India’s batting struggles at the top, Ganguly sees the fifth Test as the perfect opportunity to test the two youngsters.

“The Oval is a different pitch; it will have lot of bounce but it is important for Virat to assess how much rough will be created,” Ganguly wrote in his column for The Times of India on Friday. “What Virat needs to have a look at is his team’s batting. It is important to have a change at the top and give Prithvi Shaw a go. He is young, not battle-scarred, and had a good India A tour of England. Both KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan are not in the best of form and it will not be a bad idea to have a change at the top.”

Ganguly, who led India in 49 Tests and won 21 of them, also advised India to tinker with the bowling combination saying it could set a template should the need arise in the future. This, in turn, frees a batting spot meaning Vihari can walk into the playing XI.

“I am a big believer of playing five bowlers and the Indian bowling unit has been exceptional this series. However, maybe Virat can think about a four-bowler option to see how the bowling unit reacts to such situations and whether this could be a possibility in the future. A lot of good teams in world cricket have succeeded with this formula. It will also give Hunama Vihari an opportunity. Good things have been said about him of late and this will also help to strengthen the squad’s batting depth,” he wrote.

In Southampton, Moeen Ali, returning to Test cricket after a gap of almost five months, put India in a spin with match figures of 9/134. On the other hand, India offspinner R Ashwin managed figures of 3/124. However, as per Ganguly, bowling better in one match doesn’t make Moeen a bowler than Ashwin and Kohli should avoid dropping him unless unfit.

“It is common for everyone to find a reason for the loss, scrutinise the performance of individual players and create their own elevens, but it’s important for Virat to step aside and have a closer look himself, and I particularly mention the word ‘himself’, as to what the best possible eleven is. Yes, Moeen Ali bowled better than Ashwin in the fourth Test but that does not make Moeen ultimately a better bowler than Ashwin. It is important for Virat to ensure, first, that Ashwin is fully fit and then decide between him and Jadeja as to who the better option is,” he observed.

After losing the series in Southampton, captain Kohli spoke about how his team needs to learn how to cross the line. India had their moments throughout the series [except Lord's where they were thoroughly outplayed] but it’s been England who have sealed the key moments. Ganguly echoes his sentiments.

“India go into the fifth Test with the series already decided. Still, Virat and his boys have a lot to play for because 3-2 sounds better than 4-1 and India needs to fight for that. They had their moments in the three matches they lost, but I am sure they will understand that having moments and finishing things off are two different things.

The biggest challenge for Virat and his boys at The Oval will be to start afresh. They have nothing to lose: I know that’s easier said than done, but professional athletes have to find a way to do this. There has been a lot of criticism but that is part and parcel of professional sport and as athletes it’s important to create a zone and re-assess yourself,” he said.