India eye a clean sweep

Australia will have to play out of their skins to succeed on a turning Feroz Shah Kotla pitch.

Dhoni and Fletcher: Better times ahead?
Clarke confident | Watson returns | Delhi in focus | 'Tendulkar is my hero'

NEW DELHI:
Proponents of the revenge theory may be wise to consider a salient point of difference between India's suffering down under in 2011 and Australia’s thrashing on the sub-continent now. When India traveled to the Antipodes they had recently forsaken the No.1 ranking and were being served by a generation of greats, whose collective mission was to remedy a poor away record on a last tour of Australia. 

India’s whitewash hence was rather unexpected.

Michael Clarke’s team, as it faces an equivalent rout ahead of the fourth Test, is an inexperienced side that was tipped to keel over on doctored pitches and in alien conditions. It would be smart then to take the blanking, if it happens, with a pinch of salt; crystallized, perhaps, from the tears of repentance cried by Shane Watson and the rest of the homework-shirking brigade.

Clarke's back, or is that Watson?

It is Watson again who finds himself in the crosshairs. In the event of Clarke’s bad back ruling him out of New Delhi, the one-time all-rounder is likely to lead the visitors' rebellion against a 0-4 humiliation; this after walking off in a huff following ‘Homework-gate’ and the (possibly calm-inducing) birth of his child. Coach Mickey Arthur has been at pains to convince anybody who’s listening that Watson, after threatening to reconsider his cricket future, is firmly back in the fold and has his backing to become Australia's 44th test captain.

Playing as a pure batsman, Watson’s place in the team is not as straightforward a creation, especially after Phil Hughes and Steve Smith played out of their skins in Mohali. Clarke’s injury may save the coach and on-site selector Rodney Marsh a tricky decision, with Watson coming in as a direct replacement of his skip. It’s if the captain decides to play – as he as so many times with a dodgy back – that Arthur’s questionable interpersonal skills will come into focus again.

Dhawan out

The ankle injury to left-arm quick Mitchell Starc, who shone with the bat in the third Test, is a further jolt to a team in distress. Starc is on his way back to Australia for surgery, possibly eyeing a recovery in time for the Ashes later this year. This implies that Peter Siddle and James Pattinson (no longer on a homework ban) will support off-spinner Nathan Lyon and left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty with the ball.

There is talk already of the Kotla pitch being a dusty crumbler and India are likely go with the in-form R. Ashwin, the bits-and-pieces artiste Ravindra Jadeja, and one of either Harbhajan Singh or Pragyan Ojha. A change in the batting order, however, is indicated following Shikhar Dhawan fracturing his hand while fielding at Mohali.

Raina or Rahane?

Suresh Raina and Gautam Gambhir were named the replacements after Dhawan was ruled out for four weeks, but jaundice felled Gambhir, leaving the way for either Raina or Ajinkya Rahane, who is already in the 15, to get a Test match.

If India exercises the option to open with Cheteshwar Pujara, as they had in the Mohali second innings, either Raina or Rahane may sneak into the middle order and stake a claim on the crucial No.6 slot ahead of tougher overseas battles ahead. Expect the Indian thinktank to hand Rahane a well-earned Test debut at the expense of Raina's 18th Test match.

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