India have never won a Test series Down Under, though their first tour of Australia was made way back in 1947-48. Armed with a 2-1 lead in the ongoing series, a draw in Sydney will be enough to create history
Sydney: Virat Kohli and his men have a chance to end India’s 71-year wait when they face Australia in the fourth and final Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) from Thursday.
India have never won a Test series Down Under, though their first tour of Australia was made way back in 1947-48. Armed with a 2-1 lead in the ongoing series, a draw in Sydney will be enough to create history.
On the eve of the Test, India named a 13-man squad. They dropped Ishant Sharma and brought in Umesh Yadav, KL Rahul, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravichandran Ashwin. Rohit Sharma is missing from the shortlist as he is back in India to be with his wife and newborn daughter.
Despite his inclusion, there are doubts whether Ashwin will play a part in Sydney. There were reports that he had been ruled out of the Test, with even Kohli almost confirming it.
“It’s unfortunate that he (Ashwin) has had two niggles that are quite similar, in the last two away tours,” said skipper Kohli at a press conference on Wednesday.
“He’s very important for sure. In Test cricket he’s a vital part of this team and we wanted him to be 100% fit for a longer period to that he can come back to us in the Test format.
“He is very disappointed that he’s not able to recover in time.”
But, in a tweet, the BCCI said a decision on Ashwin would be taken on Thursday morning before the start of the match.
India name 13-man squad for SCG Test: Virat Kohli (C), A Rahane (VC), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, C Pujara, H Vihari, R Pant, R Jadeja, K Yadav, R Ashwin, M Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav— BCCI (@BCCI) January 2, 2019
A decision on R Ashwin's availability will be taken on the morning of the Test #AUSvIND pic.twitter.com/4Lji2FExU8
Australia skipper Tim Paine said it is “good news” if Ashwin is unavailable for the crucial contest.
"That's good news," Paine said. "I saw him bowl yesterday and he was batting in Melbourne, so I'm surprised he's not playing.
"I think conditions here would have suited him really nicely. Normally it spins quite a bit and with his height he would've been a handful, so I think some of our batters will be pretty happy to hear that news.
"But we know they've got some other spinners in their squad; Kuldeep is younger but got some serious talent and Jadeja did the job for them in Melbourne."
If Ashwin is out of the Test, it will be a huge blow for India as the pitch is expected to assist spinners.
Australia are yet to name their playing eleven. After the defeat in the third Test in Melbourne, they had included Marnus Labuschagne, who bowls leg-spin. However, he is not a specialist spinner but enjoyed success against Pakistan in the recent Test series in United Arab Emirates (UAE). In his debut series, the 24-year-old took seven wickets in two Tests.
If the SCG track suits spin, it will be an advantage for India. If Ashwin is ruled out, the visitors could go in with Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami will be the two frontline pacers.
KL Rahul is likely to return to partner Mayank Agarwal at the top of the order. This will slot Hanuma Vihari back in his middle-order role.
India are high on confidence and it will take a massive effort from the hosts to stop them from claiming a historic series triumph. With the bowling unit firing on all cylinders and taking 20 wickets consistently, Kohli will be hoping that it delivers one final time in Sydney.
After this Test, India’s focus will shift to ODIs with the World Cup drawing closer. India will play three 50-over games in Australia and later head to New Zealand for five ODIs and three T20Is.
In 11 Tests that India have played in Sydney, they have managed only one win, that too back in 1978. However, on current form that number should not hold back Kohli and his men. This team is looking different from the past outfits.
With the bowling working well, India’s batting again will depend on Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. The duo has carried the team along so far in the series and should continue their fine form in Sydney too.
For the hosts, their batting is the main worry. They have consistently failed against India’s world-class bowling attack. Aaron Finch is struggling as an opener and there were reports that he could be dropped with Usman Khawaja taking his spot at the top of the order, with Marcus Harris.
Peter Handscomb, who was dropped for the Melbourne Test to bring back vice-captain Mitchell Marsh, could return mainly because of his ability to play the spinners.
"If we think India were to play two spinners, Pete could be a really important player for us," Paine said.
On the possibility of Khawaja opening the batting, the skipper said, “Uzzie's opening record in Test cricket is very good. He's been on record a few times saying he's not too fussed where he bats.”
With the pre-match talk done and dusted, it is time to wait for the action to unfold at the SCG. India, on their part, will be aiming to grab this rare chance and script history.
Australia squad: Tim Paine (captain and wicketkeeper), Josh Hazlewood (vice-captain), Mitchell Marsh (vice-captain), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc.
India’s 13-man squad: Virat Kohli (captain), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wicketkeeper), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah.
Match starts 5am IST
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Last Updated 2, Jan 2019, 2:10 PM