After two riveting Test matches, there’s much to play for, with the series tantalisingly locked at 1-1. Ahead of the final Test, both teams will have to recalibrate their plans and make some tricky decisions with regard to the composition of their playing XI. While England captain Joe Root is fretting over Ben Stokes’ injury concerns ahead of the toss, his counterpart, Jason Holder, is having a harrowing time trying to mend his team’s brittle top-order. Beyond these permutations and combinations, there’s the inclement and fickle Manchester weather that teams will have to contend with.
Here’s predicting the possible playing XI and the challenges they face:
Kraigg Brathwaithe: With a couple of half-centuries, the doughty opener has got off to starts. Now, in the series-decider, the team management will be hoping that their senior long-form batsman converts these starts into a big three-figure score.
Shayne Moseley: The left-handed Barbadian could be in line to make his Test debut. He looks poised to replace an out-of-form incumbent opener John Campbell. Moseley has a pretty decent first-class record, having registered three centuries in 28 games. The youngster, though, will have his task cut out against England’s potent pace attack.
Joshua Da Silva: With just 57 runs from four innings, Shai Hope has looked abysmally out of sorts in this series. Hope and Campbell’s tepidity were reasons why West Indies’ batting has looked so brittle. Like Moseley, the team management could replace Hope with Joshua da Silva, a talented batsman from Trinidad who had struck an unbeaten 133 in the final warm-up game at Old Trafford.
Roston Chase: The all-rounder has been in reasonably decent touch with both bat and ball. So far, he has stacked up 141 runs in two matches to go with a five-wicket haul in the first innings in Manchester. Like Braithwaite, the team management would be hoping he converts those promising starts into a big match-winning haul.
Shamarh Brooks: He looked the best West Indies batsman on view in the previous Test match, registering consecutive fifties. A free-flowing batsman with the penchant to orchestrate those dreamy drives through the off-side, his contributions will once again be vital to West Indies’ chances.
Jermaine Blackwood: He was the architect in his team’s emphatic four-wicket win in the first Test in Southampton. At Manchester, he was cleaned up by Stuart Broad in the first innings for a duck, before coming good with a splendid half-century in the second innings. His stand with Brooks had given West Indies hopes of saving the Test.
Shane Dowrich (wk): West Indies will need their dogged wicket-keeper batsman to come good, after having registered a pair in Manchester. In both the innings at Old Trafford, Dowrich was out lbw after getting struck on the crease to incoming deliveries.
Jason Holder (c): His sensational match-defining six-wicket haul on Day 2 in Southampton looked like it had come ages ago. Since then, he has picked just two wickets in the subsequent three innings, and has done precious little with the bat. In the interim, the West Indies captain relinquished the No.1 all-rounder’s spot to Ben Stokes. An inspirational spell with the Dukes ball and a crucial knock down the order from Holder could just be the spark this team so desperately requires to retain the Wisden Trophy.
Alzarri Joseph: The pacer bowled his heart out in both the Tests, but will little luck. Perhaps, the slowish nature of the tracks on offer have not been conducive to his style of bowling. Nevertheless, he remains a vital cog in this team. West Indies got a scare in Manchester when he had left the field after sustaining an elbow injury. However, he looks fit for this match.
Shannon Gabriel: After his nine-wicket match-winning haul in Southampton, Shannon Gabriel looked out of form and rhythm in Manchester. Perhaps, a niggling hamstring was the reason for Gabriel looking listless. They dearly need him to turn a corner for the series decider.
Kemar Roach: Their most experienced fast bowler finally found some luck in Manchester, picking up four wickets in Manchester, after toiling away with no success in the series opener in Southampton. Just three wickets away from being only the second West Indies bowler after Curtly Ambrose to race to 200 Test wickets, Roach is on the cusp of a personal landmark. If he can breach the landmark, West Indies will have a fair chance of winning the series.
Rory Burns: Like his counterparts from the West Indies, Rory Burns has had a frustrating time out in the middle, working hard and getting off to starts, before frittering them away to innocuous shots. His scores of 30, 42 and 15 in the three innings in suggestive of his travails. The left-handed opener will look to take a leaf out of his opening partner Dom Sibley — who scored a century — when he walks out to bat at Old Trafford.
Dom Sibley: His batting may not win beauty pageants, but it can surely give his team the much-needed headstart in a Test match. Following the century in the first innings at Old Trafford, Sibley’s confidence would surely have swelled. Going forward, he needs to showcase all his powers of concentration and stone-walling prowess.
Zak Crawley: It looked like he had found his verve after the splendid second innings act in Southampton where he scored a stroke-filled 76. However, his technique is still wonky against the moving Dukes ball. He will also need to watch out for that sharp incoming delivery aimed at his pads that makes him a readymade candidate for lbws.
Joe Root (c): Even though, he didn’t quite set the stage on fire on his return to the England team, Root looked in fairly reasonable touch in both the innings. However, like a majority of top-order batsmen, he will need to dig deep and convert those promising starts.
Ben Stokes: On current form, he is arguably England’s most valuable player. The all-rounder, though, is struggling with fitness ahead of the final Test. Stokes had pulled up discomfort midway through his final over of the second Test and, at the time it was merely a case of fatigue. No matter what, he will play this Test no doubt. However, there are concerns over his readiness to play a full part as a bowler.
Ollie Pope: The youngster has not done much with the bat in this series so far — 43 runs from 4 innings. But even he will agree that he is just one knock away from roaring back into form.
Jos Buttler (wk): He had a pretty tough outing in Southampton — failing with the bat and dropping a straight forward catch off Jermaine Blackwood. Since then, there’s been a clamour for his ouster from England’s Test team. In the first innings of the second Test, he showed flashes of brilliance in his 79-ball 40, before a rather strange shot ended his vigil. A three-figure knock is all that’s needed to shut his critics.
Dom Bess: He looks like a welcome addition to the England team. Not only does his
off-spinners give this attack the much-needed variety, he is also quite handy with the bat lower down the order.
Jofra Archer: Will he, won’t he? There’s been a lot of conjecture with regard to Jofra Archer’s availability for this Test. The fast bowler has endured a harrowing week since missing the second match of the series after breaching bio-secure protocols. Consequently, he was fined, warned and forced to spend five days in self-isolation before returning to training. But England captain Joe Root reckoned the pacer was ready for the third Test.”I think Jofra will be ready for it,” said Root on the eve of this Test. “He’s had two good days of training and he’s got a smile on his face. He’s bowled at the speed of light over the last couple of days in spicy nets, so it wasn’t much fun for our batters.”
Stuart Broad: The second-most experienced England pacer with 491 Test scalps is sure to retain his spot after his sensational bowling performance in the second Test. In such a scenario, Sam Curran looks poised to warm the bench.
James Anderson: Going by the wealth of bowling riches that this England team has, it looks like a direct toss-up between Chris Woakes and James Anderson. Given Anderson’s wealth of experience and the fact that he was rested for the previous Test, he could get the nod ahead of Woakes.