Fourth Test preview: India v England

It feels like a lifetime ago that England were at the bloody end of a Test series defeat to South Africa, losing their number one ranking in the process. Now they are on the brink of winning a series in India for the first time in nearly 20 years.

It feels like a lifetime ago that England were at the bloody end of a Test series defeat to South Africa, losing their number one ranking in the process. Now they are on the brink of winning a series in India for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Before the tour to the sub-continent, amidst the Kevin Pietersen furor, many a pundit predicted a 4-0 whitewash, in favour of the hosts. Then, England lost the first Test, and those suspicions seemed to be vindicated.

But they recovered magnificently, led by their invincible Captain Cook, and are now ahead 2-1 going into the fourth and final match in Nagpur, where spinners Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann can once again expect a pitch to their liking.

England's batting, and Cook's in particular, has been far above what was expected before this tour, with Nick Compton proving himself a potentially permanent partner for his skipper at the top of the order. Pietersen too has shown his worth, going about his job with an unusually quiet air.

Oddly, Samit Patel has been the one to fail in the Tests, after doing so well with the bat in the warm up games, and it will be interesting to see whether he is replaced by Jonny Bairstow or Eoin Morgan, given that his bowling has hardly been top notch.

England's main concern is in the fast bowling department, where vice-captain Stuart Broad remains on the sidelines, though this time through injury rather than a lack of form, as was the case in the third Test. The paceman picked up a bruised heel and has been ruled out.

There will be a last-minute decision made on Steve Finn though, as he picked up a lower back injury this week, frustrating for fans and selectors as he'd just recovered from the thigh problem that kept him out of the first two matches. Now England must decide who will accompany James Anderson if Finn is out: Tim Bresnan, Graham Onions or Stuart Meaker?

India have a whole set of issues to worry about, not least of which is their middle order. To be honest, their whole batting order, aside from Cheteshwar Pujara, has been below-par, and sentiment has finally been discarded in the dropping of Yuvraj Singh.

This leaves a gap in the order that could be filled by rookie Piyush Chawla, or the uncapped Ravindra Jadeja, both of whom could act as a third spinner, given that Harbhajan Singh was also dropped.

Sachin Tendulkar scored a gritty 70-odd in Kolkata to justify his selection (not that he would have been dropped, mind you), so Virat Kolhi and the openers will need to pull something out of the hat in order to take the pressure off Pujara and at least salvage a draw on home soil.

<b>Key Men</b><br><i>India:</i> If India are going to put up decent totals, they will need <b>Cheteshwar Pujara</b> to come to the party yet again. He is India's top scorer in the tournament so far, with an average of 103, including a double ton. He has looked comfortable against all the England bowlers, though the pressure might be starting to tell.

<i>England:</i> The obvious choice here is <b>Alastair Cook</b>, so we'll go with it. He's scored a century in each of the Tests on this tour, the last one falling just 10 runs short of his 200 thanks to a ridiculous run out, and he's going at an average of 109. His leadership and calm presence have also been crucial to England's success.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2012: Third Test: England won by seven wickets in Kolkata<br>2012: Second Test: England won by 10 wickets in Mumbai<br>2012: First Test: India won by nine wickets in Ahmedabad<br>2011: Fourth Test: England won by an innings and eight runs at The Oval<br>2011: Third Test England won by an innings and 242 runs in Birmingham

<b>Prediction</b><br>Online betting firm <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>Sky Bet</b></a> has India at 11/8 and England at 9/4 in the odds to win the fourth Test. Visit Sky Bet for the latest <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>cricket betting</b></a>.

More <a href='http://' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>cricket bets here.</b></a>

<b>Probable Teams</b><br><i>India:</i> Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain, wicketkeeper), Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Piyush Chawla/Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha.

<i>England:</i> Alastair Cook (captain), Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Matt Prior (wicketkeeper), Samit Patel/Jonny Bairstow, Monty Panesar, Graeme Swann, Steve Finn/Tim Bresnan, James Anderson.

<b>Dates:</b> 13-17 December<br><b>Morning session:</b> 09:00 – 11:00 (03:30 – 05:30 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 11:40 – 13:40 (06:10 – 08:10 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 14:00 – 16:00 (08:30 – 10:30 GMT)<br><b>On-field umpires:</b> Rod Tucker and Kumar Dharmasena<br><B>Third umpire:</B> Local appointment<BR><b>Match referee:</b> Jeff Crowe