London: Mahendra Dhoni`s continuance as captain in Tests after next year`s World Cup and the retention of Duncan Fletcher as coach after the same event are at stake as India, trailing 1-2 in the series, lock horns with England in the fifth and final cricket Test starting here Friday.
The good news is that Ishant Sharma, who bowled India to victory in the second Test, but was unavailable for selection due to a recurrence of an ankle injury in the two reverses thereafter, may be fit to do battle in the crucial encounter. He has bowled at the nets for the past two days without any visible setback.
The bad news is that the Indian tour selectors still hadn`t apparently taken a final call on the non-performing spin bowling all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, although there were signs that Stuart Binny, who played a match-saving innings in the 1st Test and provides a fourth seamer option, may have re-entered the frame.
It may be sensible to consider Stewart Binny or even a more attacking move of recalling the fast-medium bowler Mohammed Shami, who may be motivated to prove himself after being sidelined following his below par performance in the first three Tests.
Varun Aaron`s extra pace fractured England fast bowler Stuart Broad`s nose in the fourth Test, which is a worry for England. With Ishant`s experience and hit-the-deck variety inter-twined with the swing of Bhuvneshwar Kumar (who needs two more wickets for a tally of 20 in the series) should give the English batsmen more food for thought.
The added threat of Shami, if he can rejuvenate himself, could, in fact, tilt the balance in India`s favour. But this would, admittedly, be a gamble, for it would theoretically weaken the batting. But then India need to go all out for a win in order to square the series.
Dhoni has taken a few blows on his shoulders and ribs, not to mention his fingers, in the series. However, it would be surprising if he rested himself for such a make or break contest. At The Oval`s easier batting conditions as compared to Old Trafford, there is no reason why he shouldn`t stick to batting at No.6.
But the top five in the order before him need to redeem themselves. A stable opening gambit between Gautam Gambhir and Murali Vijay, who showed such excellent form in the first two Tests, would go a long way towards making life easier for the middle order batsmen.
At the same time, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, whose reputations have taken a knock, especially the latter`s, need to step up, if India are to have any chance of saving the series.