India vs Australia Test series: India on the cusp of history

Leading 2-1 in the four-match series, India remains firm favourites to make it 3-1 at the Sydney Cricket Ground despite serious fitness issue pertaining to its premier spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and senior pacer Ishant Sharma, who has not been named in the 13-member list.

India Virat Kohli (right) talks to teammates before a training session ahead of the fourth Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground.   -  AFP

Making history is never easy. India first toured Australia in 1947-48. And a Test series triumph down under has proved elusive.

Now, Virat Kohli and his men, with a 2-1 lead entering the fourth Test at the SCG, have a gilt-edged opportunity to accomplish an epoch-making series victory with either a draw or a win.

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Staring at such a monumental achievement, India has to show character and single-mindedness in the big game beginning here on Thursday.

Going for a 3-1 verdict is the better option for Kohli’s side. The Indians should not leave behind their attacking instincts.

India has been up against some great Australian teams in the past. Tim Paine’s side is a weakened batting outfit and India has to be ruthless.

Spin-friendly track

The conditions here could suit India. The pitch, with a light covering of grass, should assist the spinners as the match progresses. The SCG has the reputation of being the most spinner friendly pitch in Australia.

The sun has been blazing in these parts too and the heat could open up cracks on the surface, further assisting the spinners.

Read: No confirmation on Ashwin's fitness, Ishant left out

This is precisely why the presence of its two leading spinners, R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, is so crucial for India.

Ashwin's fitness has dominated the talking points on the eve of the Test. PHOTO: AP   -  AP

 

There was plenty of drama on the eve of the Test. First, Kohli, addressing the media, ruled out Ashwin’s participation in the match. “He is not 100 per cent fit. He is as disappointed as we are. Ashwin is really important to our Test plans,” the Indian skipper said.

Yet, over an hour later, India announced a 13-member squad for the Test with Ashwin’s name in it. What had transpired to put the off-spinning all-rounder back in contention?

Ashwin seemed to have made a good recovery from an abdominal strain - he has been bowling and batting at the nets - but the injury appeared to have flared up on Wednesday morning.

When Kohli spoke to the media, he had this information with him. And Ashwin would not play, he said.

Subsequently, the physio found out that it was not a relapse but only a niggle that settled down soon. Ashwin too felt much better and his name was included in the list.

If Ashwin doesn’t suffer a fitness setback in the morning, the off-spinner will team up with left-armer Jadeja here. The pair could sting at the SCG.

Also read: SCG inspection to decide Australia side, says Paine

In case, Ashwin fails to make the cut, left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav could come into the eleven.

Seamer Ishant Sharma has been ruled out with strained ribs and India might go into the Test with just two pacemen - the in-form Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami.

K.L. Rahul is likely to return to the opening slot. This means Hanuma Vihari will be pushed back into the middle-order, in place of Rohit Sharma.

Host's batting concerns

India will be hoping to win the toss, put up a mammoth score and then turn the screws on the Australians as the ball starts turning from day three.

Australia has major batting concerns. Usman Khawaja could open with Marcus Harris with the out of form Aaron Finch left out.

An Indian training session in progress at Sydney.   -  AFP

Peter Handscomb, a fine player of spin, could emerge in the middle-order. And Marcus Labuschagne, who can supplement his batting with useful leg-spin bowling, should come in for the underwhelming Mitchell Marsh.

Also read: Kohli brushes off injury fears as back 'niggles'

Nathan Lyon’s match-winning skills on these tracks are well known. The Indians will need to be positive against the off-spinner.

The next few days here will be massive for Indian cricket.

Teams

India (Final 13): Virat Kohli (capt), Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, R Ashwin.

Australia (from): Tim Paine (capt & wk), Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Marnus Labuschagne, Peter Handscomb, Peter Siddle.