One of the best Test series in years took another twist at The Oval with India’s brilliant last-day victory.
The visitors took all 10 wickets on the final day to claim a 157-run victory and take a 2-1 lead in the five-match Test series with one to play.
Sportsmail‘s experts — former England captain Nasser Hussain, former England coach David Lloyd, cricket correspondent Paul Newman and Wisden editor Lawrence Booth — answer the big questions ahead of Friday’s final Test at Old Trafford.
Joe Root’s men trail 2-1 in the five-match series against India heading into the final Test
How can England square the series?
Nasser Hussain: Take their catches. It’s hard enough to get 20 wickets in a Test, let alone 25 or 26. And be more ruthless with the bat.
They got into a good position in the first innings at The Oval and didn’t get the lead they should have because of soft dismissals.
Pick a varied bowling attack and use the spinner more — Moeen Ali is now the third highest English Test wicket-taking spinner!
David Lloyd: Just as they came back strong at Headingley after losing at Lord’s, so they have to again. What did Iain Dowie call it? Bouncebackability.
They have to revamp the performance and spirit of the team.
There’s a real toughness about India that’s absent from England. When India are in a corner they’re like tigers, but England are too nicey-nicey.
Rory Burns and Co must take their catches and be more ruthless when batting at Old Trafford
Paul Newman: Could they be hoping to do it by bringing in Jos Buttler and Jack Leach and leaving out the two most messed around cricketers of our age —Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali?
It looks that way from the squad named for Old Trafford. It’s a shame Saqib Mahmood isn’t fit, because with Mark Wood he could have brought pace, energy and reverse swing to a tired attack.
Leg spinner Matt Parkinson might have been an option on his home ground.
Lawrence Booth: England must wise up. Their cricket was so scrappy at The Oval, where they repeatedly failed to respond to crucial moments, dropped too many catches and missed run-out chances.
India looked so much more switched on. In the right conditions, England’s seamers can still make life hard for them.
It’s a shame Saqib Mahmood isn’t fit, because he could have brought pace and energy
Should Buttler come straight back?
Lloyd: I assume he’s going to get the gloves back straight away. Otherwise, why would he be back in the squad? Maybe they told Jonny Bairstow he was only going to have them for one game.
Jonny didn’t do much wrong at The Oval but he didn’t command. There’s a good chance Bairstow goes out of the team now.
Hussain: I would find it difficult to leave out Pope or Bairstow and that’s the only way I could see him playing.
I would have told Jos to spend more time with his family out of the bubble because there’s a lot of cricket ahead, hopefully including the Ashes.
Jos Buttler missed the 157-run defeat by India at the Oval to attend the birth of his second child
Booth: No, for three reasons. One, he hasn’t scored more than 25 in three Tests this summer.
Two, Bairstow has been messed around too often and deserves one last chance to show he can be the Test keeper.
Three, Pope made 81 at the Oval. There is also the question of Buttler’s long-term commitment to Test cricket, which seems to be unhelpfully hanging over Root’s team.
Newman: There is a huge question mark over Buttler making himself available for Australia so why is he coming back? I know he’s not alone in that but it would be a mistake for him to play.
Jonny Bairstow kept in Buttler’s absence – he didn’t do much wrong but he didn’t command
Can Woakes do it Down Under and have England found two openers?
Newman: Woakes is an exceptional cricketer and the epitome of everything England got wrong with their too-clever-by-half selection during Covid.
He was working well with Darren Gough in New Zealand before the pandemic and can prosper overseas.
The openers have made a good start together and, while there are still slight concerns over Hameed, he has the ability and potential to become the real deal.
Booth: It would be unfair to write off Woakes’s chances in Australia on the basis of old worries about his ability overseas, and a lone Ashes tour in 2017-18 when five of his 10 wickets came in the pink-ball Test at Adelaide. He’s a better bowler now and strengthens the lower-order batting.
We shouldn’t go overboard about Burns and Hameed, but they look stronger than any combination since Alastair Cook retired.
It would be unfair to write off Chris Woakes’s chances in Australia on the basis of old worries
Hussain: Woakes is an excellent cricketer and in England he’s one of the first names on the teamsheet.
But he does still have to prove it away from home. And he was just starting to do that before Covid and all the injury problems hit.
I like the tempo Burns and Hameed are setting and they have two hundred-run partnerships already. I’d just like Hameed to look at the drop-off when he re-starts his innings. He can’t go into his shell.
Lloyd: Woakes is good enough to play as an all-rounder in Australia. He could bat at six or seven.
But, categorically, we don’t have an opening combination, it’s as simple as that.
Hameed gives me the impression he just goes out to bat like he’s still playing schoolboy cricket.
There has to be a game awareness about him. He can’t just turn an innings into a blockathon.
We shouldn’t go overboard about Rory Burns (R) and Haseeb Hameed (L), but they look stronger than any combination since Alastair Cook retired
How good are this India side?
Booth: Very good, but flawed. They are still a collapse waiting to happen when England find lateral movement — especially if their opening batsmen, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, don’t score many.
Their biggest edge over England is their wicket-taking ability on flat surfaces, as Jasprit Bumrah showed on the last afternoon at The Oval. And they’re driven hard by captain Virat Kohli, who is a force of nature.
Don’t forget, though, that New Zealand — not India — are the world Test champions.
Lloyd: They are the best Test team in the world. There’s quality all the way through with people like Shardul Thakur and Umesh Yadav coming in and doing a fantastic job.
And if they’re up against the ropes, India don’t half come out fighting. I’ll tell you how good they are: they’re that good they can choose to leave Ravichandran Ashwin out.
India’s biggest edge over England is their wicket-taking ability on flat surfaces, as Jasprit Bumrah (above) showed
Hussain: Very good. There are still vulnerabilities in their batting and Ajinkya Rahane looks horribly out of nick, but their bowling, particularly the seam attack, is exceptional.
Bumrah, for me, is the best multi-format bowler in the world. Kohli is the driving force, of course, and winning in England is the final frontier for him. It would be some legacy.
Newman: They could go on to become one of the greatest Test sides. I certainly can’t see England stopping them winning 3-1 now, but then again I said England were finished after Lord’s.
Kohli goes too far with his antics on the field of play but there’s no questioning his passion for Test cricket and his desire for his side to be the best red-ball team in the world game.
And with that he is doing a big service for the great old game.
Virat Kohli goes too far with his antics on the field of play but there’s no questioning his passion for Test cricket