Cricket lovers making late bookings for corporate hospitality at the Kia Oval Test match starting tomorrow (August 10th) could see England crowned the best Test team in the world.
The England side is going into the match in a confident mood after overcoming a 103-run first-innings deficit in the third Test at Edgbaston to win by the handsome margin of 141 runs.
An unchanged squad has been named for the final Test, where they will hope to win again and potentially secure a 3-1 win. A draw may also be enough to put them on top of the ICC Test team rankings, and will definitely ensure they hold the bilateral trophies against all nine Test opponents.
Pakistan can also go top of the rankings, but would not only need to win the Test, but also rely on Australia not winning the final Test in their current series in Sri Lanka, and India failing to beat the West Indies by a margin of more than two Tests. If Australia win in Colombo, England will have to win at the Kia Oval, but victories in the final two Tests in the Caribbean would give India the 3-0 series win they need to replace the Aussies at number one, irrespective of results elsewhere.
It all adds up to some great plot tension, to go with some fine cricket being played by both England and Pakistan.
Player ranking points are up for grabs too, with James Anderson hoping to stay on top after climbing to the number one position after Edgbaston. With India's Ravi Ashwin second and Stuart Broad third, those positions have plenty of scope for change. Yasir Shah, who went top after his ten wickets at Lord's, has dropped to third after his modest returns in Manchester and Birmingham.
The same is true of the batting. Joe Root closed the gap with Steve Smith at the top of the rankings by making a half-century at Edgbaston, and could overtake him by making a big score at the Kia Oval, especially if the Aussie captain continues to struggle in the spin-friendly subcontinental conditions.
It is not just in Colombo that conditions may favour the slow bowlers, however. England's head coach Trevor Bayliss considered picking legspinner Adil Rashid, with the Kia Oval having produced plenty of turning pitches this season. However, it has been suggested that the Test pitch may have pace and bounce like Old Trafford. England will therefore be unchanged.
Should England go top of the rankings, they will face a battle to stay there this winter, with India playing no fewer than 13 home Tests in a season. This includes a four-match series against England and another against Australia, before which they face a series with New Zealand.
India will also play a home Test against Bangladesh for the first time, although the one-off nature of the fixture means it does not count towards the rankings. However, the newest Test nation could have a role to play in the equation as England are due to play a two-match series there before they go to India, security issues permitting.
Pakistan may also get another chance to push for top spot with a series in the UAE this autumn against the West Indies.
By Sam Coates