India had stormed to a historic victory at Lord's last month, after Ishant had wrecked England with career best figures of 7/74 at the Mecca of cricket. However, he was ruled out of the subsequent Tests in Southampton and Manchester, where the tourists lost to squander their 1-0 advantage. India now trail 1-2 and can at best only draw the series, if they win at The Oval. (Dhoni, Fletcher Have Been Stubborn, Says Boycott)
India's attack has lacked teeth in Ishant's absence and his replacement Pankaj Singh has been ineffective despite working hard to get wickets. In such a situation, captain MS Dhoni has also struggled to identify a leader among his bowlers. Gavaskar felt the lanky pacer's return will make a huge impact.
"Ishant was the one who destroyed England in the second innings (at Lord's), and that too on a day when the pitch would have slowed down. The pitch (at Lord's) would have been at its liveliest on Day 1 but on Days 4 and 5 it generally slows down and to destroy England then (was remarkable). Certainly India will feel that with Ishant back in the side, they have every hope of trying to level the series," Gavaskar told NDTV on the eve of the series finale.
If Ishant is fit enough to play, Pankaj will have to make way. The Rajasthan seamer got off to an unlucky start and rewrote dubious records, before finally breaking through in his second Test. Pankaj was unfortunate to not get more than two wickets so far, but Gavaskar said it's the results at the end that matter.
"I think it will be hard on Pankaj Singh. But the fact of the matter is that he has only got two wickets in two Tests despite bowling long spells. You can argue that there were dropped catches, a couple of lbw calls that didn't go his way but you have to look at the results and if the results have shown that two wickets (have come) in two Tests, then you will have to drop him from the team and bring in somebody who has seven wickets in an innings," Gavaskar said, making it very clear that he would not have had any problems asking Pankaj to step aside for his star speedster.
Ishant had shown England's weakness against the short-ball, bouncing several batsmen out with sheer pace. Varun Aaron, who replaced Mohammed Shami at Old Trafford looks certain to retain his place and India would hope the two generate enough pace to rattle England.
Dhoni has already said he will play five bowlers and Gavaskar felt that was a wise move, given Ishant's problems with fitness. If he does break down, the captain has the option of falling back on the four other specialists. It is the batting that is still cause for concern and the commentator, who survived a car accident in London recently, felt the tourists needed to strengthen their top-order.
"I would look to have a regular opening batsman like Shikhar back, because Shikhar at least got 37 (at the Rose Bowl) where he looked pretty good. Gambhir looked completely uncomfortable and that is not the kind of confidence building situation (the lower order needs)," Gavaskar said.
The Oval has been a happy hunting-ground for India, with the pitch expected to assist spinners. It could of course backfire for the tourists, who have been flummoxed by England's part-time off-spinner Moeen Ali. However, Dhoni will count on Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin to exploit the conditions and help India draw level.
Gavaskar also said a successful past at the venue could give India a sense of comfort and that in turn could probably help the side come up with a bolder performance.
"Let's look at it this way; The Oval has been a very good ground for the Indian teams over the years. Our first ever win in England in 1971 came at the Oval and then again in 2007, we won a series here. So generally the Oval has been a very good ground for the Indian team. There are a lot of times when you come to a ground and you just feel that sense of comfort and I believe that the Indians will feel a sense of comfort when they come over here," said Gavaskar.