In a series that was largely devoid of any major incident, Australians provided a touch of drama by expelling four of their key players ahead of the third Test, setting off a chain of reactions.
Trailing the four-Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 0-2, it was the last thing the tourists needed in their quest to salvage some pride against the high-flying Indian outfit. Already bereft of experience, Australia slipped into a deeper chasm by sacking their vice-captain Shane Watson, who flew back home to be with his pregnant wife Lee Furlong, their most impressive bowler in the first two Tests James Pattinson, experienced paceman Mitchell Johnson and middle-order batsman Usman Khawaja.
With less than a day left for the penultimate encounter to begin here at the PCA Stadium on Thursday, skipper Michael Clarke was left with no more than 12 fit players to pick his playing 11 with Matthew Wade’s ankle still playing dodgy. If the stumper fails to recover in time, his cover Brad Haddin, who hasn’t played a Test since his Adelaide appearance against India in January last, will bring in some experience to the table.
Australia are indeed a side in transition but so massive has been a change in their personnel that only Clarke featured in the last Test between these two sides at this venue in October 2010. The Ricky Ponting-led team had suffered a heart-breaking one-wicket loss then as VVS Laxman stood between them and a potential victory.
The current Indian side itself has a vastly different look to it with six from that winning combination out; some retired and others dropped. Virender Sehwag, the dashing opener, was the latest to be excluded from the squad paving the way for his fellow Delhi opener Shikhar Dhawan’s Test debut. It’s the first occasion in a long time that neither of that famed pair – Gautam Gambhir and Sehwag – will be opening the innings for India.
Murali Vijay and Abhinav Mukund did open in the West Indies in early 2011 but at that point in time Gambhir had been given rest while Sehwag had undergone a shoulder surgery. Though Vijay’s confidence will be a notch up following his beautifully constructed 163 in Hyderabad, he, along with Dhawan, constitutes what can be termed an inexperienced opening combo. Dhawan especially should be feeling a bit relaxed as he makes his debut in less demanding conditions.
To begin with, the opposition is in disarray following the disciplinary action against four players including Pattinson who could have posed a few tough questions if the pitch here does live up to its ‘pacer-friendly’ reputation. With MS Dhoni’s men having taken an unbeatable lead, the pressure on Dhawan will be that much lesser. However, even without Pattinson, Australian attack can be handy with Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc capable of causing a few problems if there is a slight hint of assistance for them from the surface.
So far as spin is concerned, Australia have ‘myriad options’, if it can be called so, in off-spinner Nathan Lyon, leg-spinner Steve Smith and left-armer Xavier Doherty besides the off-spinning all-rounder Glenn Maxwell. Smith is yet to get a match but the remaining three have proved totally ineffective against Indian batsmen. The bigger worry for Australia, though, should be their batting against Indian spinners.
Barring Clarke, not a single Aussie batsman has shown the requisite skill and temperament to tackle the turning ball consistently. The touring batsmen did have extended sessions at ‘nets’ but the fact that their travails continued even against local spinners may not have done any good for their confidence.
The Indian batting unit hasn’t had any big worries though there was a minor scare to double centurion in the second Test Cheteshwar Pujara, who was hit on his left knee during Tuesday’s practice. The right-hander, however, batted without any obvious discomfort on Wednesday before he was declared fit by Dhawan.
Apart from Dhawan’s inclusion in place of Sehwag, it’s unlikely India will effect any more changes to their combination that won in Hyderabad. There are hushed voices that suggest inclusion of paceman Ashok Dinda in place of Harbhajan Singh given the nature of the pitch here but the team’s think tank would be more inclined to give the off-spinner an extended run to help him regain confidence.