A miracle at Mohali?

Short of an improbability, very little can save Australia from India in the third Test.

Clarke the boss | Watson denies rift | Arthur speaks

In better times: Clarke and Watson.MOHALI: Things unpleasant cannot be wished away and continue to exert their malevolence long after their enactment. This is what depleted Australia are likely to find out come Thursday as they strive to avoid a first-ever series loss to India by a margin of more than two Tests.

Save for a Jihadi attack on the team bus, not much more can go wrong for the visitors going into the third match. They trail by two; four of their key players have been voluntarily jettisoned; their cricket on the whole finds itself in a bog of undercurrents and uncertainty after ‘Homework-gate’, which, some suspect, marks the tip of an iceberg that is in far greater disarray than appears on the surface.

Without a principal batsman, their best bowler and two players who – barring the bizarre sequence of events – were certain to play in Chandigarh, Michael Clarke’s bullish announcements of how his team will equalize the series from here appear to be a juvenile, knee-jerk reaction to a situation he has no definite answers to.

Team trouble

Clarke, after all, can only bat for himself and he has been doing it with aplomb. Whatever else he is required to involve himself in – the chores that captaincy entails – has apparently not been going too well. Having willfully chosen to excise Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson and Usman Khwaja, time alone will tell if the approved eleven, picked from the 13 presently at his disposal, redeems itself after successive spineless shows at Chennai and Hyderabad.

But one man’s meat is another man’s poison. The loss of two chief wielders of willow implies that a struggling Phil Hughes is likely to retain his spot behind openers Ed Cowan and David Warner, who are having a sorry tour of their own. Clarke will be solid at four and million-dollar Glenn Maxwell may sneak in again purely on good fortune.

Moises Henriques, one of the few positives to emerge for Australia, is likely to be a sure thing, as is wicketkeeper-batsman Brad Haddin, who was flown in as replacement of the injured Mathew Wade.

In the enforced absence of Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc will share the new ball, and offie Nathan Lyon and left-armer Xavier Doherty are expected to split the spinning duties. The wicket, according to veteran curator Daljit Singh, is not especially smeared with grass: it may facilitate spin, although, like always, there will be early purchase for seamers.

India favourites

Which is why India will feel comfortable even if they opt for a three-spinner strong attack chasing their first ever 3-0 win over Australia.

R. Ashwin, a ten-for and a five-for already in his pocket, has been the form bowler, and Ravindra Jadeja has been his able, restrictive ally at the other end. Harbhajan Singh has bowled well in spurts; it remains to be seen whether he is displaced by left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, or shares the third tweaker’s slot with him.

Ishant Sharma’s poor run may have compelled MS Dhoni to sack him for an extra slower bowler; the historical assistance that the venue provides fast bowlers with might save Ishant a firing, or get Ashok Dinda a game at his expense. The impressive Bhuvenshwar Kumar is a certainty.

Pujara to play, Dhawan to debut

India’s batting has been in ship shape. If you discount starting trouble, that is. Virender Sehwag’s omission has led to the probable Test debut of Delhi southpaw Shikhar Dhawan, who will open with an in-form Murali Vijay. No.3 Cheteshwar Pujara, whose magnificent double-ton brought India victory at Chepauk, was dealt a painful blow on the knee (not the terminally distressed right one, thankfully!) by a nets bowler, causing him to miss practice. Pujara, however, is likely to play, as Dhawan informed in the pre-match presser. 

Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli have looked in good touch. The former is still chasing a 101st international century, after the farcical landmark versus Bangladesh a year ago, while the latter is gradually stepping back into his high gear of the season past. Dhoni's is a formidable, attacking presence at No.6 , followed by Jadeja, who should fast realize that a skill that can at best be classified as 'containment bowling' is not going to keep him in the Test eleven for long – unless he gets some runs.

Not in recent times have India gone into a Test such firm favourites, nor have Australia – even in the ruinous days that followed the 47 rout against South Africa – entered one such rank outsiders. It will take sheer grit and some otherworldly luminance on the part of the visitors to prevent a 3-0 scoreline in five days’ time. Or is that four days’ time?

The squads: India (from): Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

Australia (from): Michael Clarke (capt), Ed Cowan, David Warner, Phil Hughes, Matthew Wade, Glenn Maxwell, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Moises Henriques, Xavier Doherty, Steve Smith, Brad Haddin.