For the first time in his captaincy Virat Kohli is likely to retain the same XI for consecutive matches. The Nottingham Test last week was his 38th as captain; he is yet to go into a Test without making at least one change. Form, fitness and his own gut instincts about players were some of the factors that contributed to Kohli's tinkering, but after the victory at Trent Bridge, which came about due to a collective effort from the team, India may opt to stick with the winning unit.
The first hints of such a possibility were evident during India's first training session in Southampton, three days before the Test. The batting order was the same as that at Trent Bridge with Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul entering the nets first, followed by Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli. Ajinkya Rahane was then paired with Rishabh Pant, and Hardik Pandya padded up next. R Ashwin, the other allrounder, who struggled with a hip injury through most of the Nottingham Test, also batted, though he did not bowl.
India were meant to start their training from Tuesday, but the team think tank added another day of preparation. All 18 players, including new additions Hanuma Vihari and Prithvi Shaw, reported for the training, which lasted for close to three hours on an overcast, cool and breezy day.
The overhead conditions and a hard and lively pitch put a spring in the step of the fast-bowling group as they forced edges repeatedly. But it didn't cause most of the batsmen to frown, since they were playing with soft hands. Head coach Ravi Shastri singled out the young trio of Pant, Vihari and Shaw, offering them guidance on their stance, the distance between their feet, and their trigger movements.
Shastri, no doubt, would have been impressed by the back-foot play of Shaw, the youngest member of the squad at 18. Shaw, who led India to victory in the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year, showed a good understanding of length as he handled Jasprit Bumrah, India's best bowler at Trent Bridge, confidently. However, the probability of either Shaw or Vihari, who replaced M Vijay and Kuldeep Yadav in the squad, making a Test debut this week remains remote.
Kohli and Shastri would like the other batsmen to take forward the good work they did in the third Test and make it big at the Ageas Bowl which has been among the higher-scoring venues in English first-class cricket this season. The average runs-per-wicket figure at the Ageas Bowl this season is 34.10, the highest among all Test venues in England. The seamers have done the bulk of the bowling, taking 122 wickets at an average of 30.97 in half-a-dozen matches, while the spinners have taken 23 wickets at 33.86.