India continue to fret over Kohli's fitness

Cricket Fourth Test : Series decider promises exciting fare

India continue to fret over Kohli's fitness

 Like it or not, this India-Australia series has spun around Virat Kohli. With the Australians sticking out their necks in challenging conditions, the previous contests have also redefined the mind games, personal ribbings and sledging- characteristics long associated with the visitors. Therefore, it would be a dampener if Kohli, the crusader of Indian aggression, had to opt out due to a shoulder injury in the all-important series decider beginning at the HPCA stadium on Saturday.

Kohli has attracted sizeable criticism as well as adulation for his brusqueness and readiness to take on the barbed shaft directed at him or the team. The previous Test only intensified the focus on him after he picked the injury during a diving attempt. The focus, apart from the ubiquitous beauty of the mountainous region hosting its first Test match, has been on Kohli’s fitness.

The Indian skipper had skipped the nets on Thursday but on Friday after much delay he batted for a while. The decision on his participation will only be taken after a fitness test in the morning of the Test match. His cover Shreyas Iyer arrived on Friday morning and interacted with Kohli during the practice.

Despite the competitiveness involved, it has been one series where Kohli’s name doesn’t figure among the leading run scorers. In the five innings, he has only 46, with 15 being his highest score. Still, his presence has had an impact. He is always taking the aggression to the Australians, and is a bundle of energy on the field.

While Kohli has struggled to get runs, India has ridden on the form of Cheteshwar Pujara, KL Rahul, and Wriddhiman Saha.  The Indians, after the loss of first Test in Pune, bounced back to level the series and had come close to taking the lead in the previous Test at Ranchi, where Ajinkya Rahane stood as captain when Kohli was tending to his injured shoulder.

The fact that the Indians couldn’t win has given rise to the chorus of momentum being shifted to Australia, but it would be unfair to snatch the credit from the bowlers. While R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have delivered the goods, the seamers - Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav - have bowled useful spells and done a good job of creating the roughs for the spinners.

Whether India would be tempted to carry a fifth bowler on Saturday needs to be seen. Chiefly due to the inherent nature of the surface that has bounce and pace.

If the conditions meet the expectations, Australia’s hopes of clinching the series would soar. They have already proved their detractors wrong by preventing a 4-0 whitewash. But unlike the visiting New Zealand and England before them, the Australians had come better prepared. Their captain Steve Smith has shown gargantuan appetite to score runs in the series – he is currently the leading run scorer.

Even though David Warner has had a lean run, the rise of Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb in Indian conditions, has shored up the Australian batting. Their spinners, experienced Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe, have been a revelation and kept the Indian batsmen in a bind. And, despite losing their strike bowler Mitchell Starc to injury, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood have proved their worth.

With the series poised tantalizingly, a victory would be aggressively sought after by India and Australia, who visited Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama on Friday morning. Australia have won just one series here since 1969 when Adam Gilchrist ended a 35-year drought. A win here would be significant for them, but India wouldn’t concede an inch. With or without Kohli!

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