This is not where Australia were expecting to be. In an alternate universe, India don’t recover from 139/7 and the visitors are 1-1 entering the cool climes of Dharamsala after a well-earned break. Instead, they are 0-2 down in the series and facing the literal and metaphorical heat in Indore. Their captain, Pat Cummins, has had to fly home for personal reasons. Two other senior players David Warner and Josh Hazlewood have gone back too, taking with them the squad’s original second spinner Ashton Agar.
On the field, a team of great method has been made to look increasingly scatterbrained, surrendering limply or hitting out wildly. Their spin predicament is perhaps best encapsulated by those of captain-again Steve Smith. In three innings, the master batter has been dismissed on both edges, from both over and around the stumps and while both defending and attacking.
It is confirmed now that India will pick up the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, but there’s still time for Australia to pick up the pieces. And the visitors have shown promise in the series, only to break it at critical junctures. Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb and Travis Head have all had starts with the bat. But there have been enough collapses on either side to sustain any kind of victory push. Australia have also unsettled India’s batting line-up but seldom have they done so with the new ball or against the ‘tail’. The looming return of Mitchell Starc, it is hoped, will polish some of those rough edges while simultaneously creating enough of a rough outside the right-handers’ off-stump for Nathan Lyon and Todd Murphy to hit.
As for Rohit Sharma’s team, it is a case of carrying on in the same style: aggressive, focused, settled and hungry, with a trifecta of rewards within reach. A win in Indore will clinch India the series, qualification to a second straight Test Championship final as well as wrest back the No.1 ranking. Their five-fanged bowling attack has been relentless and faultless to a T. So much so that in four innings now, and in 30 off the last 36 dating back to 2018, India haven’t even needed the second new ball. The major question mark, if any, surrounds the top order. With such prizes in sight, might they contrive to produce the sort of performance in keeping with their old reputation?
When: India vs Australia, 3rd Test, March 1-5, 09:30 IST, 04:00 GMT
Where:Holkar Stadium, Indore
What to expect:The summer is settling in ever so steadily in central India. While the mornings are still pleasant, mid-afternoon temperatures will climb up to 34 degrees Celsius during the Test match. This will have an effect on the pitch, which as Smith reckoned was dry from the six-metre good length towards the stumps on each side. So spin will continue to remain a big factor. India have made big scores in each of the two Tests played here. Neither of those games, against New Zealand and Bangladesh, however, were played this late in the Indian season. And so, as ever, the first innings advantage will count for a lot and Australia for one, will hope Smith will have imbibed Cummins’ luck with the toss. Although it should be noted that Madhya Pradesh made 245 (won) and 241 (lost) in the fourth innings here in the Ranji Trophy quarters and semis respectively earlier this month.
Rohit Sharma has only one selection call to make. Persist with the now ex-vice captain KL Rahul or bring in the in-form Shubman Gill. Both batters have indulged in long practice sessions for two days in the build-up to this Test. However, it was Gill that turned up alongside his captain for an optional net session on the eve of the match, hinting that it may well be his turn to have a go in this series. The Indian captain, however, stated that training patterns or even the removal of Rahul’s vice-captaincy were not indicators of selection to the XI. He also reiterated his claim that “players with potential going through a tough time will be given enough time to prove themselves.” Make sense of all that if you will.
Probable XI:Rohit Sharma (c), Shubman Gill/KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Ravindra Jadeja, KS Bharat (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj
Australia will have a new captain and a fairly new-look bowling attack for this Test. Cameron Green and Mitchell Starc, so long the subject of fitness scrutiny on the tour, are finally expected to take the field in this series. The left-arm seamer will come in for Cummins and the all-rounder’s return, likely in place of Matt Renshaw. Australia are also likely to play their three spinners from Delhi and have a deeper five-man attack. However, they haven’t yet ruled out Lance Morris and his ‘pace through the air’ or an extra batter as options.
Probable XI: Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith (c), Peter Handscomb, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Mitchell Starc, Todd Murphy, Nathan Lyon, Matthew Kuhnemann
Did you know?
– Nathan Lyon (126 wickets) needs two wickets to go past Shane Warne (127) as the overseas bowler with most Test wickets in Asia
– Pat Cummins lost only four tosses in 15 Tests. Smith will need a rub of that luck given the only two home Tests India have lost in the last decade were when they lost the toss.
– Axar Patel needs two more wickets to complete 50 in Test cricket. However, he’s bowled only 26 overs in the series so far, compared to 67.1 and 64.5 for Jadeja and Ashwin
What they said:
“I played 200 balls in Nagpur and never felt settled. It just takes one ball to grip or keep low and you are out. On pitches like this, you are never in. What has happened to them can happen to us. We cannot take things lightly. Yes, we have quality spinners who can change things around just like that but that does not give us the guarantee that we are going to win the Test or roll them over in one session. We have got to keep the discipline going.” – Rohit Sharma on the importance of staying focussed on these challenging pitches.
“We probably just rushed things a little bit [in Delhi] and it’s something we’ll talk about tomorrow when we meet. When we’ve got them on the ropes, we can slow things down. We don’t have to play at such a high tempo and risky tempo. Because we had them where we wanted them, we had men out and the ability to get off strike. We just rushed it.” – Steve Smith on the importance of slowing things down when in control in India.