Do-or-die for both India & Australia in series decider
Dharamsala: With the picturesque Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium (HPCA) geared up to host its first ever Test and the four-match series between India and Australia locked at 1-1, a lot will be at stake when the two top-ranked sides face each other in the decider, starting here from Saturday.
After three engrossing and intense matches on varied surfaces in Pune, Bengaluru and Ranchi, all eyes will be on the Dharamsala Test where a win for the home side will help them regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy since 2014-15 while the visitors have a chance to retain it and more importantly cement the second spot in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test rankings ahead of the cut-off date of April 1.
On the other hand, India are assured of finishing first and receiving a cash award of $1 million. Should Australia lose and South Africa win or draw with New Zealand in Hamilton, Steve Smith’s team will fall to third.
Going into the final Test, the hosts will be hoping to have a 100 percent fit captain Virat Kohli after the shoulder injury he suffered during the third Test in Ranchi.
The 28-year-old on Friday said he would undergo another fitness test and take a call later in the night or on Saturday morning. Meanwhile, India had on Thursday called up Mumbai batsman Shreyas Iyer to the squad as cover for Kohli. According to latest reports, Kohli hasn’t turned up for batting in the nets even on Friday.
Besides Kohli, the team management will not have any headache in dealing with the batting combination. All the Indian batsmen, barring Kohli, have been among the runs in the series, with Cheteshwar Pujara getting a marathon match-saving double-hundred and stumper Wriddhiman Saha a brilliant century in the third Test.
Vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane’s efforts in the Bengaluru Test with Pujara also keep him in good stead with the willow while all-rounders Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja can add good balance lower down the order.
Talking about the bowling department, the team management will most likely go in with a five-bowler theory, in which case Karun Nair may drop out and make way for a bowler.
With the HPCA Stadium situated at a high-altitude, and traditionally favouring the swing bowlers, it is likely that Bhuvneshwar Kumar may get a look-in at the expense of Ishant Sharma, who has barely three wickets in the series so far.
The home team was pondering a shot of pace in the form of Mohammed Shami, who linked up with the squad after a run for Bengal in the Vijay Hazare Trophy final against Tamil Nadu, but reports are that he has not been passed fit by the team physio.
On the other hand, the tourists will be delighted with the conditions in the hilly town and bank on their pace battery to have a go at the Indians.
Pacer Pat Cummins was given the go-ahead for this match following precautionary scans on his spine the day after the third Test, which means that there are no injury concerns. Going by the conditions, the Australians have also hinted at adding another pace option in Jackson Bird at the cost of left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe.
In the batting department, the visitors will hope to have the dashing David Warner getting back into his groove and giving a strong foundation with Matt Renshaw.
With skipper Steve Smith at No.3, followed by the likes of Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh and Glenn Maxwell in the middle order, the visitors’ batting looks solid. Stumper Matthew Wade has got the starts and can rotate the strike with the lower order.
India: Virat Kohli (Captain), Lokesh Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (WK), Karun Nair, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jayant Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund, Shreyas Iyer.
Australia: Steve Smith (Captain), David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Matthew Wade (WK), Pat Cummins, Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Steve O’Keefe, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson.