Confident India primed to create history

India's fast bowlers Ishant Sharma (centre L) and Jasprit Bumrah (centre R) warm up with their teammates before training ahead of the fourth and final Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney on January 2, 2019. (Photo by Peter PARKS

Having ended 2018 on a high, a pumped-up Virat Kohli and company will be hoping to start the new year on a bright note, by scripting history.

Leading the four-Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2-1, India will start favourites to win the Pink Test, starting here Sydney Cricket Ground from Thursday, and thereby clinch their maiden series in Australia.

India have promised a lot in their two previous away tours to South Africa and England only to fall short of their own expectations. While they started on a losing note on both those two tours, always trying to catch up, this time they are in front and look primed to deliver a knockout punch on a battered opposition.

The SCG, though known for its reputation for helping spinners, hasn’t been as lucky a ground as Adelaide or Melbourne for India. In 11 matches since they first played here in 1947, they have won only once in 1978 when the spin trio of captain Bishan Singh Bedi, EAS Prasanna and B S Chandrashekar claimed 16 wickets between them for the match. In eight matches after that win, they have drawn four and lost four, three of them ending in innings defeats.     

The SCG pitch for the series-decider was wearing a healthy grass cover but so did the Melbourne track which turned out slow and low. The look of the pitch seems to have left the Indian think tank in a state of confusion with regard to their final combination. They have included all three spinners – R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav – in the 13-man squad after leaving out Hardik Pandya, M Vijay, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Parthiv Patel and the injured Ishant Sharma.

Ashwin was declared unfit and not available for the match during Kohli’s press conference only to be included in the 13-man squad later. No reason has been assigned for the U-turn yet. They have decided to wait until the morning of the match to decide on Ashwin’s fate. India had gambled by playing the half-fit off-spinner in Southampton against England only to pay a huge price for it. The team combination will depend a lot on his availability.

Another interesting pick is the inclusion of opener Rahul and if he makes the cut, Hanuma Virahi will be pushed to the middle. That will link up Bengaluru buddies Rahul and Mayank Agarwal at the top of the order.

Australia have included leg-spinning all-rounder Marnus Labuschagne and he may replace an under-fire all-rounder Mitchell Marsh. There is a possibility of Peter Handscomb displacing opener Aaron Finch, and if that happens Usman Khawaja may open the innings.        

Irrespective of which way the result goes in this Test, India will walk back with their pride enhanced, finally proving what they always claimed they were capable of. And this group has a few more years left in it to add more glory.

Questions may be raised about the strength of the current Australian team, missing two of their brightest batting stars, but you can only play the opposition that has been put on the park. Questions were raised about Sourav Ganguly-led team as well in 2003-04 when a star-studded India drew the series 1-1 against an Australian attack that was missing two of their greatest bowlers – Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.

If, in 2003-04, Australia had a batting line-up of superstars, now they have an attack that’s as good as any in terms of quality -- lethal in their own conditions. What’s important at the end of the day is that when you look back at the series a few years down the line, all you remember is what the result was.

Teams (from):

Australia: Tim Paine (capt & wk), Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja, Aaron Finch, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Marnus Labuschagne, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.

India (13): Virat Kohli (capt), Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav. 

Match starts at 5.00 am IST

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Confident India primed to create history

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