India, beaten soundly by the Englishmen a couple of months ago, have found their vigour against the touring Australians. The past follies have been erased by the 3-0 lead they command in the series.
Youngsters have stepped in to fill the gaps. Recovery has been fast and the results have been quick to arrive, putting them on the threshold of an unprecedented 4-0 sweep.
Australia, a team battling similar problems like India, have struggled to find their feet. The retirement of their seniors, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, has left voids and the once most-feared side has shrunk in fight and spirit. They have struggled on the dry and spinning tracks. The fourth and last Test here at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium brings little hope.
Their off-field problems can take a new twist if Michael Clarke, suffering from a chronic lower back problem, fails a fitness test on Friday and prompts the ordaining of Shane Watson as the new captain. Watson, among the quartet to be dropped for indiscipline in Mohali, had publicly mulled quitting Test cricket over the “harsh” punishment and the likelihood of he being made the captain has already drawn some sharp reactions.
Away from all this, India have prospered through the performances of the new faces. Young swing bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar has successfully exploited his good form in the longer format.
Ravindra Jadeja, rated a specialist in the shorter forms of the game, has been a pleasant surprise with his left-arm spin that has troubled Australia’s best batsman Clarke the most. That Jadeja has dismissed Clarke five times in the series speaks for itself. A brilliant fielder and handy with the bat, Jadeja has been a revelation.
Partnering him, Ravichandran Ashwin, who struggled for some time, has regained his rhythm after an ordinary performance against England. But it was Shikhar Dhawan, the 27-year-old debutant from Delhi, who stole the thunder with a knock that attracted universal attention and praise.
It was once-in-a-lifetime innings at Mohali, an innings that rose beyond limitations and conventions. It is indeed sad that Dhawan, nursing a finger injury, won’t be able to play on his home ground.
Dhawan along with Murali Vijay, another fluent strokemaker, filled the slots left vacant by the struggling seniors Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag. On such keen competition sport thrives. Suresh Raina, who has been ploughing his way in domestic cricket, has been called in as replacement but whether he will get a chance to play or will Mahendra Singh Dhoni go in with Ajinkya Rahane as the opening partner for Vijay remains to be seen.
As Dhoni’s smile becomes wider over the choice of plenty, Clarke will be looking to seize the last opportunity to boost the morale of his side ahead of the crucial Ashes series. To add to his increasing woes, an injured Mitchell Starc, who shone with the bat in Mohali, is likely to be replaced by James Pattinson. Pattinson was impressive in the first two Tests before the homework gate sidelined him. In his absence, Peter Siddle toiled manfully in Mohali.
The pitch has a sprinkling of grass and promises to offer bounce before supporting the spinners, and that should be good news for the Indians in their effort to make it four in a row in the final game of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The last three outings have followed a predictable script. If Kotla could offer a contest to relish, it would be a fitting finale to the series named after the two of the greatest names from the era that revered Test cricket.
The teams (from): India: MS Dhoni (captain and wk), Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Pragyan Ojha and Ashoke Dinda;
Australia: Michael Clarke (captain), Ed Cowan, David Warner, Phillip Hughes, Shane Watson, Matthew Wade, Brad Haddin, Moises Henriques, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon, Xavier Doherty, Glenn Maxwell and Steve Smith.
Umpires: Richard Kettleborough (England) and Aleem Dar (Pakistan). Third umpire: S Ravi. Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka).