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England has much to play for in the final Test against India

Jonny Bairstow will be fighting to save his Test career in his 100th Test match, while James Anderson could join the 700-wickets club

Jonny Bairstow has had an underwhelming Test series.(AP)

By AFP

LAST PUBLISHED 06.03.2024  |  08:30 AM IST

Struggling England batsman Jonny Bairstow looks to be fighting to save his Test career when the fifth and final match against India begins in Dharamsala on Thursday. Bairstow will win his 100th cap as England, who have already lost the series 3-1, try to salvage some pride in the high-altitude and chilly Himalayan hill town.

India spinner Ravichandran Ashwin is also in line to play his 100th Test, having already passed the milestone of 500 Test wickets during the series. Bairstow said Tuesday that his 100th Test would mean "a hell of a lot", he told reporters.

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"Every young kid that sets out on a journey playing professional cricket wants to try and play 100 Test matches," he said. Bairstow, recalling his 2012 Test debut at Lord's, said that if someone had told him then he would play his century match he would have been "pinching" himself like it was a dream.

The former wicketkeeper is in the side as a specialist batsman, after Ben Foakes took over behind the stumps, but he has scored just 170 runs at an average of 21.25 during the series. The 34-year-old has struggled since returning to the side last year, after breaking his leg in a freak golfing accident.

He has played 10 Tests since recovering, but has not scored a century and has a highest of only 38 in eight innings in India. Former England captain Michael Vaughan called Bairstow's landmark "a great triumph of resilience", in his column for the UK's Telegraph newspaper. "I believe that if you get to 99 caps you deserve the moment of your 100th," Vaughan wrote, while noting that "you can't escape that he could miss out on his 101st". "He hasn't played well enough across the 10 Tests he's been back in the side, especially in India," Vaughan added.

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Bairstow is renowned as an attacking batsman and at number five in the order is crucial to England's aggressive "Bazball" style of cricket. Bairstow showed glimpses of a return to form in the fourth Test but could not convert good starts, where he reached 38 and 30 in each innings respectively, into substantial scores. Former captain Joe Root also struggled in the first three Tests, but struck form as he knuckled down to score a sublime century in the fourth on a testing wicket.

Veteran seamer James Anderson, 41, is just two wickets away from 700 wickets and becoming the third bowler, after Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan (800) and late Australian spin legend Shane Warne (708), to achieve the milestone.

The weather in Dharamsala could play a huge part in the match. The picturesque ground is surrounded by snow-capped peaks at an altitude of 1,317 metres (4,320 feet). There is a risk of sleet and forecasts say temperatures could plunge as low as 1C (33.8 Fahrenheit) on Thursday.

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India pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah will return after being rested but the focus will be on Ashwin, 37, who made his debut in 2011. Ashwin has 507 Test victims, second only to Anil Kumble's 619 wickets on India's all-time list. "It's a pretty big occasion -- more than the destination, the journey has been very special," Ashwin told reporters. "But it doesn't change anything... 3-1 scoreline is on the board, and despite the scoreline, you want to win every Test match that you play."

India won in Ranchi by five wickets and have not lost a home series since 2012, when Alastair Cook's England won 2-1. The hosts have unearthed new talent in the series, such as Dhruv Jurel and Sarfaraz Khan, in the absence of Virat Kohli and the injured KL Rahul. Batsman Devdutt Padikkal is in line for his debut in place of Rajat Patidar, who has managed just 63 runs in six innings in his maiden series.

Left-handed opener Yashasvi Jaiswal leads the series batting with 655 runs, including two double centuries. England spinner Tom Hartley is the leading wicket-taker with 20. Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja and Ashwin all have 17 wickets.

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