Sydney: India’s unwavering pursuit of history hit a minor glitch in the 11th hour injury concerns but Virat Kohli’s men will still walk in as overwhelming favourites against a faltering Australia in the fourth and final Test starting Wednesday.
Leading 2-1 in the four-match series, India remain firm favourites to make it 3-1 at the Sydney Cricket Ground despite serious fitness issues pertaining to their premier spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and senior pacer Ishant Sharma, who has not been named in the 13-member list.
Australia have hosted India since 1947-48, and barring three occasions — in 1980-81, 1985-86 and 2003-04 which were drawn – they have lost the Test series on seven occasions — 1967-68, 1977-78, 1991-92, 1999-2000, 2007-08, 2011-12, 2014-15. Virat Kohli, thus, is in a unique position as the only Indian captain to go into the final Test on Australian soil with the cushion of a series lead.
A series win in Australia will certainly put Kohli on a different pedestal even though the quality of home team’s batting line-up suffered adversely due to the ban of former skipper Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner. However, Kohli will need to fret over his team combination as the skipper revealed that the senior off-spinner hasn’t adequately recovered from his injury despite being named in the preliminary 13-member squad.
With spin considered a traditional factor in any Sydney Test, India were left fretting over the fitness of off-spinner R Ashwin, who is yet to recover from left abdominal strain that laid him low after the first Test in Adelaide.
Ishant Sharma is out after experiencing discomfort in his left rib cage and the team management didn’t want to risk him by playing him in the decider.
However, Ashwin has been named in the 13-man shortlist for this fourth Test. A final decision on his fitness and availability for the match will be taken at toss-time.
Additionally, India have included left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav as cover, in case the skipper decides to go in with two spinners. Surprisingly, Umesh Yadav has been included in the shortlist ahead of Ishant Sharma, along with Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. At the time of writing, an official word on Ishant Sharma’s fitness – or any injury concerns – is yet to come forth.
In Rohit Sharma’s absence, out-of-favour opener K L Rahul could be slated for a comeback after missing out in Melbourne, with Hanuma Vihari slotting down to his No. 6 spot. This is on assumption that regardless of Ashwin’s fitness, India will opt to play four bowlers, whether in a two-pacer-two-spinners or three-pacers-one-spinner combination. There is no option of playing an all-rounder as Hardik Pandya continues to be ignored, despite a hectic pre-match workout in the nets with both bat and ball.
Kohli has described Vihari as an exciting’ spinner and he will be the second spin option, if India retain their bowling combination from the MCG Test. Additionally, this 13-man shortlist can also be seen as a ploy to keep Australia guessing, for the hosts made a departure from norm and decided not to name their playing 11 for the first time in this series.
Australian skipper Tim Paine said they would wait to announce the team until the toss, taking into consideration if India opt to play two full-time spinners. While they need at least a draw in Sydney to win the series outright, India will still retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy irrespective of the result and Kohli will join Ganguly as the only Indian captain achieving this feat in Australia.
Additionally, one more win will take Kohli ahead of Ganguly, who led India to 11 wins in 28 overseas Tests. Kohli has matched that record in 24 away Tests.