Not many expected Australia to put up such a fight and hold the series result awaiting till the Dharamsala Test. With the kind of reputation India carry at hoe this season, they should have sealed the series by now and the second fiddle might get the odd chance to showcase their talent at Dharamsala. But Australia have turned the tide and kept India on their toes with some stubborn performances in the series so far. With both the teams being evenly poised in the four-match series, one can expect them to come out hard and fight for glory in the ultimate battle at Dharamsala. It’s a do-or-die game for India, while Australia can afford to play for a draw. The winner of this battle takes all, but a draw will also hand Australia a morale victory. India, at no cost, can afford to draw this game, let alone a defeat.
Many cricket pundits and cricketers expected India to romp home with another series victory and beat the visiting Australians convincingly in this series as well. But it wasn’t to be. After an emphatic win at Pune, Australia lost the Bangalore Test but did well to save the day at Ranchi. They have fought fire with fire and have a golden opportunity in their hands at Dharamsala to win the series or even square the series.
When Pakistan toured England in 2016, things turned out to be different than anticipated. They put up a battle and somehow managed to draw the series, which was considered a kind of a victory for them as England were sheer favourites going into the series. Australia are walking on an identical path at the moment after shrugging off their losing streak in India since 2004 after an overwhelming victory at Pune.
Problem of playing at unknown test venues..India potentially looking at a series loss, if Dharmasala produces it's knwn seam friendly pitch.
— Avinash Ranganath (@avi_ranganath) March 23, 2017
With a day left going into the Test, there are reports all over the internet speaking about some grass over the Dharamsala pitch. The curator of Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association, Sunil Chauhan, spoke about the nature of the wicket and also said that it will have pace and bounce along with being a result oriented wicket. Chauhan said, “Till date I have never taken any instruction from anyone and I have always prepared wicket keeping the traditional nature of this track in mind. This will be a bouncy wicket and preferred by those who play the cut and pull shot well. At Dharamsala, we have always tried to provide result oriented wicket. Even during this season’s Ranji Trophy, the outcome was decided on the fourth day lunch. As usual, the trend says that the pacers will get more wickets.”
Keeping in mind, the high altitude and climatic conditions, it would be advantageous if India go for an extra pacer in this encounter. India need to chip 20 Australian wickets within five days apart from getting enough runs on the board. Batting hasn’t been India’s area of concern but bowling is.
In the Ranchi Test, Australian batsmen have surprisingly done a laudable job and overcome a huge mental barrier after Mitchell Starc being ruled out after the second game. A gamble of playing Glenn Maxwell paid off as the manic Australia batsman grabbed the golden opportunity with both the hands and scored his maiden ton to sail the Australian ship out of choppy waters.
In the second innings, Australia bounced back decisively on the final day, with Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb leading the fightback. At stumps on Day 4, Australia were two men down with a mountain to climb on the final day. It was quite apparent that India will seal the series with another resounding win and take 2-1 lead in the series. But things didn’t turn out to as desired by the Indians.
The onus of making a comeback and winning the game is now on India and there is an urge for them to come up with a strategy and leave no room for error in the much-win game. And one of the crucial changes will be playing a fifth specialist bowler in the Dharamsala Test.
With Dharamsala expected to be a seam conducive surface, India should persist with Mohammed Shami, provided he is fit. He is indubitably India’s finest bowler across formats but has been out of international circuit after a mistimed injury during the series against England. Shami has now recovered fully and has been with the Indian side at Bangalore and Ranchi, where he bowled in the nets. His fitness has been a major drawback in his career.
If conditions assists, Bhuvneshwar Kumar could make the ball talk. In seam-friendly conditions, Bhuvneshwar is a force to reckon with; he can swing the ball in both directions with startling accuracy. Though he has played just five Tests this home season, but has done a commendable job in bagging 14 wickets at a staggering average of 18.71.
Umesh Yadav has been amazing to watch this series, scalping 12 wickets at a healthy average of 25. He always had the ingredients to excel but inconsistency deprived him of fruitful results. But this series has been different for the potent bowler, where he has shown signs of consistency along with some inexperience. Ishant Sharma, on the other hand, has occasionally sparked brilliance along with disparity. A three-man pace attack would be a quintessential bowling attack at Dharamsala. Will India play three seamers? Well, only time will unveil the mystery.
India have enough back-up in their batting to play an extra bowler. With Murali Vijay and KL Rahul being on-song at the top, the burden from middle-order has eased off to an extent. Cheteshwar Pujara has been in an excellent form and has scored runs in heap. Such has been the contribution from others that Virat Kohli’s bare runs column has not affected India massively in this series.
Ajinkya Rahane got crucial runs but has failed to put a huge price on his wicket. It’s only a matter of time till he finds his mojo and further strengthens the batting. Ravichandran has been disappointing with the bat but Wriddhiman Saha’s century in the last game has certainly bolstered the batting. With Indian batting doing a praiseworthy job in the third Test, India can accommodate an extra bowler instead of a batsman to put extra pressure on Australia and reduce the workload to bring the best out of their bowlers.
India will be eager to end the home season on a high, and as of now all eyes are set at Dharamsala, as the fourth Test gets underway from March 25.