Before the series began, not many would have envisaged a winner-takes-all clash in Dharamsala. Yet, here we are after three riveting Tests. Even as quite a few acrimonious incidents both on and off the field have hogged the limelight, the premise is an intense tussle between two fiercely competitive teams.
A long and fulfilling home season has reached its final destination. With everything to fight for, India will seek one last push in order to bring a triumphant end to the proceedings. On the other hand, Australia will be aware of their rare chance to create history. In an era where home teams rule the roost, the conquest of unfamiliar territory has the power to bestow greatness and define legacies.
Let us take a close look at all factors influencing the final Test which begins on Saturday at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium.
#5 Who has the momentum?
As the third Test petered out to a tame draw, both camps jostled to claim the honours. The steadfast defense shown by Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb on the final day embodied Australia’s driven mindset. Steven Smith declared that the visitors had grabbed the momentum by forcing a grueling away series into a decider.
Meanwhile, the Indians chose to mask their underlying disappointment of not being able to force a decisive result in Ranchi. Having sent down countless overs in the season thus far, lead spinner Ravichandran Ashwin displayed signs of physical and mental fatigue. With the score line reading 1-1, there cannot be a bigger motivation for their experienced players to rise to the challenge in Dharamsala.
Team Form (Last 5 matches in reverse chronological order)
India – DWLWW
Australia – DLWWW
#4 Curators promise something for everyone
As always, there is enormous intrigue over the all important 22 yards in Dharamsala. The lingering trend in the series has seen curators’ predictions and teams’ expectations become exactly the opposite of what eventually transpired on match day.
The venue’s curator has promised a ‘true Test match wicket where the game lasts till the fifth day’. While seamers have been backed to get assistance from the pitch, the batsmen may not mind the even pace and bounce. Spinners are expected to obtain some purchase as the contest goes on. Unlike other venues, the toss may not be as crucial here as copious cloud cover could prevent the surface from deteriorating rapidly.
#3 Hosts sweat on Kohli’s fitness
The shoulder injury, which Virat Kohli had sustained during the previous Test, is threatening his participation in Dharamsala. Uncapped Mumbai batsman Shreyas Iyer has been brought in as cover for the skipper. Mohammed Shami is also highly unlikely to feature despite prior signals. Considering the nature of the surface, India may include a fifth bowler in the form of Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Despite helping the visitors win their only match of the tour so far, left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe’s place is in jeopardy. The think tank is mulling over the insertion of Jackson Bird to add depth to the seam department.
Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma
Matt Renshaw, David Warner, Steven Smith (c), Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade (wk), Pat Cummins, Jackson Bird, Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood
#2 Saha and Jadeja eye 1000-run mark
Here are a few important statistics surrounding the Test.
Saha needs only 18 runs to become the sixth Indian wicket-keeper batsman to complete 1000 runs.
Jadeja requires 12 more runs to become the 10th Indian all-rounder to complete the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets.
The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium in Dharamsala will be the 27th venue to host Test cricket in India.
If India win this match, they will reclaim the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and consequently hold all nine Test trophies at the same time.
Among all batsmen with at least 5000 runs, Smith’s average of 60.98 is the second best after Sir Don Bradman’s 99.94.
#1 Focus on India’s middle-order
With Kohli reeling from a troubling shoulder as well as indifferent form, India’s middle-order is appearing increasingly shaky. The onus is on second-in-line Rahane to prevent the Australian bowlers from having a sniff. The Mumbaikar showed glimpses of his value during the team’s second innings in Bengaluru. Higher altitude and swing-friendly conditions in Dharamsala could play into his strengths.
Upon delivering a combined tally of 83 overs in the Ranchi Test, Hazlewood and Cummins might need to dig deep into their fitness reservoirs. Needless to say, the duo will be extremely crucial to the visitors’ chances. If the Indian batsmen manage to stretch their workloads and wear them down, skipper Smith could find himself under severe consternation.