16 March 2017 will be a Red-Letter day.
When the third Test of the Border Gavaskar Trophy gets underway on Thursday, it will be a proud moment for the residents of Ranchi, for it will be the first-ever Test match played at the city’s JSCA International Cricket Stadium.
For fans of Australian cricket, the Ranchi Test will be a memorable occasion too, for the Australian team will be playing its 800th Test match. Australia’s journey in Test cricket began on 15 March 1877, when they clashed with England in the first-ever Test match.
Since playing the historic Test in 1877, Australia have established themselves as a force in international cricket; most definitely in modern day cricket history where Australia has consistently been the top-ranked team.
Heading into their 800th match, Australia have 377 wins in the format – more than any other team, though they have played 184 Test matches fewer than England – the team with the second-most number of wins.
The Ranchi Test is also of huge importance in the context of the series; Australia won the first match in Pune, before India drew level with a thrilling win in Bengaluru.
It is pertinent to note that for India to clinch the Border Gavaskar Trophy – which is currently held by Australia after their win Down Under in 2014-15 – Virat Kohli and co. will need to either win both the remaining matches, or ensure they win one and draw the other.
Leaving Controversies Behind
All the controversies emerging in the aftermath of the Bengaluru Test have been put to rest, and the focus is back to the contest between bat and ball – at least for the moment. It wouldn’t be wrong to say the home team will hold the edge after the win in Bengaluru; despite the match being a low-scoring affair, the home team bundled the visitors out for 112 in the fourth innings run-chase to register a thrilling 75-run victory.
The teams have had more than a week in between the second and third Tests, but one can be sure that both team managements would have utilised the break to identify areas which have underperformed. Anil Kumble, Sanjay Bangar and co. will be aware that there’s hardly been anything of note from the opening pair (India’s average opening partnership in 11 Test matches this home season reads 29.70) and the Indian camp will hope for a solid start from the openers on this occasion. Murali Vijay, who is said to have recovered from the injury that forced him out of the previous Test, is likely to return to the XI and partner KL Rahul at the top.
While the Indian lower order has generally chipped in with more than useful contributions in the last year or so – particularly in the series against England, there’s been little of note from so far in the two matches in this series. Understandably, the conditions have been testing – but there have hardly been any dismissals which can be attributed to demons on the pitch. The Indian camp will hope the likes of Ashwin, Saha and Jadeja can contribute a few runs down the order.
Focus on Virat?
Among the batsmen, the lack of runs from the “head of the snake” – as Virat Kohli is being referred to – stands out. Though Virat has scored only 40 runs in the four innings in this series, it must be quickly pointed out that this could be a small lean patch in what has otherwise been a prolific season for the Indian captain.
Australia’s character will be tested; it will be interesting to see if (and how) they bounce back from the defeat in Bengaluru - more so now that they have lost their pace-spearhead Mitchell Starc to injury. Australia will be forced to make at least two changes; apart from fielding a replacement for Starc, the visitors will also have to decide who takes the place of the injured Mitchell Marsh.
Team and Pitch
Will Darren Lehmann and Steven Smith opt for a like-for-like replacement and pick Marcus Stoinis, or given the poor returns from the batsmen, will they lean towards an additional spin bowling option and give Glenn Maxwell a chance to resurrect his Test career? Among other options available to the Australian management are fielding a specialist batsman with the inclusion of Usman Khawaja or boosting the spin bowling attack with the inclusion of Mitchell Swepson.
The pitch at the JSCA Stadium is a bit of an unknown commodity and presents a puzzle to both camps – given this is the first Test match being played at the venue. However, one can make out from images from the ground that the surface appears bare and abrasive, though it will possibly be a better batting surface compared to the earlier two venues. There is no doubt the pitch will aid spinners, but the medium pacers will also have a role to play because of the reverse-swing they will be able to generate.
Australia had won each one of their 100-Test milestones – until they were halted by India in their 700th Test match. What result awaits Australia in their 800th Test? Follow updates from the Test match on our live blog. The two captains are scheduled to walk out to toss at 0900Hrs IST, and the first ball is scheduled to be bowled at 0930Hrs IST.
India: Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Ravichandran Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma
Australia: David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Steven Smith, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, Steve O’Keefe, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins.