With the fourth and final Test of the Border-Gavaskar series set to begin at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association stadium in Dharamsala on 25th March, both India and Australia have all to play for with the series tied at 1-1.
The three Tests have provided us with a whole lot of entertainment and nail-biting drama and we could expect the final Test to go down to the wire as well. There has been no shortage of action on the field as the players have constantly been at each other’s throats and sledged each other given the opportunity.
With the pitch set to assist pacers as per the update provided by the chief curator, Virat Kohli’s men would have their task cut-out against the brutality of the Australian bowling line-up. It will also be interesting to see whether Kohli decides to go with the extra pacer in his side or continue to work with the extra batsman.
With less than 24 hours to go for the first ball to be bowled, here’s our take on India’s predicted XI for the final Test.
After a string of poor performances with the bat, Murali Vijay got back his groove in the previous Test in Ranchi after missing the 2nd Test due to an injury. He scored a steady knock of 82 in 183 deliveries with ten fours and one six and with that, would have surely cemented his place in the playing XI for the final Test.
To partner Vijay at the top of the order would be the third highest run getter of the series – KL Rahul. He scored 282 runs in 5 innings at an average of 56.40 with four half-centuries to his name. He is the only the fourth Indian batsman to score 4 half-centuries in a single series without converting it into a hundred. He will be looking to continue his fine run of form and surely look to score the big one in Dharamsala.
Missing out on the spot would be Abhinav Mukund who had replaced Vijay in the 2nd Test but failed to perform with the bat with a duck in the first innings and 16 in the second.
Cheteshwar Pujara who was named the man of the match in the 3rd test match would continue at no. 3. Currently the 2nd highest run scorer in the series behind Australian captain Steve Smith, Pujara broke numerous records en-route his historic knock of 202 in the first innings of the previous Test in Ranchi. He took 525 deliveries and by doing so he broke the record of the most number of deliveries taken by an Indian batsman in Tests.
Extra Cover: The significance of Cheteshwar Pujara
Virat Kohli has been going through a slump off late and has not been able to come up with the goods in the entire series. With a total score of 46 in 5 innings, he averages only 9.20 with the bat. Instead, he has been in the news for all the wrong reasons with regards to the sledging and banter on the field. He will be looking to put all of that behind him and get back to his best.
His shoulder has been bothering him after his injury in the third Test and Shreyas Iyer has also been called as a cover for him, but he has not been ruled out of the Test yet so we could expect to see him play.
Ajinkya Rahane too hasn't been in great form off late apart from scoring one half-century in the first Test. However, he remains a vital cog in the Indian batting line-up and has produced top notch performances when it has mattered most, so he would surely retain his place in the side.
Wriddhiman Saha produced the innings of his life in the previous Test with a well-crafted century and a 199 run partnership along with Pujara. By doing so, the duo broke a 69-year-old record of the highest 8th wicket partnership for India in Tests. Since Dhoni last played a Test, Saha started off slowly but has slowly become a mainstay in the Indian cricket team with his impressive wicket keeping and batting skills.
The batsman who would most probably miss out on a spot is Karun Nair. He was brought into the side to bring some stability into the middle order and despite getting starts in both the innings, he failed to perform well.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja would continue to perform their role as the main spinners of the side and play an important role lower down the batting order as well. Ashwin has been picking up wickets at regular intervals, but he will be looking to perform a bit better in the final Test and emulate the form he showed against England and New Zealand.
Ravindra Jadeja, on the other hand, has been in supreme form and has arguably been the best bowler in the series. In 3 matches, he picked up 21 wickets at a phenomenal average of 18.23. He also went on to become the no. 1 bowler in the Test rankings after his achievements in the previous match.
The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association chief curator Sunil Chauhan revealed that the pitch would assist pacers this time around, India would most likely go with three fast bowlers instead of the two which they used in the first three Tests.
Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma will continue to be a part of the playing XI for the final Test as well. Umesh has turned over a new leaf over the past year or so and has become one of the most effective bowlers in the side. The pace and accuracy with which he is able to bowl is a wonderful sight for the fans. Steve Smith himself was impressed with Umesh’s ability to constantly bowl effective yorkers.
Ishant, on the other hand, has not been able to take too many wickets in the series so far but has constantly troubled the Australian batsmen with his consistent line and length and has not held himself back when it came to sledging the opposition.
Replacing Karun Nair would be Bhuvneshwar Kumar who is yet to play a game in the series. Bhuvi, as he is fondly known has the ability to swing the ball into the batsmen and with a pitch that will assist the pacers, he could be a deadly weapon against the Kangaroos.
Playing XI: Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav