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Fourth Test preview: Who will secure the Border-Gavaskar Trophy?

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Roar Rookie
12th January, 2021
19

This series has been a roller coaster. From one Test to the following, one session to another, and even one hour to the next, the cricket has ebbed and flowed in thrilling fashion.

At the start of the final day’s play in Sydney, Australia would have felt confident in their ability to clinch the match, a belief undoubtedly enhanced with the wicket of Ajinkya Rahane in the second over.

The next stanza was compelling with the counter attack from Rishabh Pant and dogged resistance from Cheteshwar Pujara, laced with more aggressive intent than in previous Tests.

Then came the ultimate redemption in the form of Hanuma Vihari. Pilloried for botching an attempted run in the first innings, and dropping a sitter off Marnus Labuschagne on the second ball of Day 4, his second innings marathon was a masterclass in resilience and self-belief. Meanwhile, the battered and bruised Ravichandran Ashwin provided admirable resistance in the wake of a short-pitched barrage.

There were heroes from the Australian side. The pacemen gave it everything and a tired Mitchell Starc was still steaming in right to the death. As has been the case all throughout the series, dropped catches were costly, especially from skipper Tim Paine, who admitted as such in the post-match interview.

Not for the first time, Nathan Lyon did not seal the deal, despite bowling well. As has been remarked elsewhere, perhaps Australia simply turned up expecting it all to happen.

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Nathan Lyon

Has India got Nathan Lyon’s measure? (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

While India was no doubt delighted to emerge with a draw, there would also have been a sense of what might have been. For example, If Rohit Sharma were not to hole out late on Day 4 when in command, India could have started the final day only one down and with strokemakers to follow. However, it is hard to think in that manner, since the elevation of Pant may then not have happened and that was the catalyst for the final day’s pulsating play.

So where to from here? It may come down to the medical rooms and who of the walking wounded brigade can fare best.

Both teams, more so India, have worries on fitness. Ravindra Jadeja has been ruled out and will be on his way home, and there has to be severe doubts over Vihari, while it has been reported that Ashwin has tweaked his back.

Australia will be sweating on the scans of Will Pucovski and whether David Warner can back up.

India may be tempted or forced to bring back Mayank Agarwal, in place of Vihari, at the top of the order and then push either Shubman Gill or Rohit Sharma into the middle order. My preference would be to play Sharma down the order, where he could be even more destructive and shore up an at-times wobbly middle.

Given the short turn around, India should continue to play five bowlers. Assuming that Ashwin will play, there is real scope for playing Kuldeep Yadav as the second spinner, which would mean Pant could keep and bat at six.

There is a risk of an even longer tail, as Ashwin would bat at number seven rather than at eight, and India’s tail has been vulnerable. This configuration could be risky but the tourists can play out a draw and still retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. That said, this outfit will not be thinking in a defensive manner and will be keen to win the series, and thus the more risky option will be sought.

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However, as insurance there may be a temptation to play Shardul Thakur, who can both move the ball and provide better resistance with the bat. In that case, Navdeep Saini may miss out. For balance reasons, India will not likely play four seamers and only the one spinner.

For Australia, should Pucovski not come up, then his replacement is likely to be Marcus Harris, who performed solidly the last time India was out here. In the unlikely event of Warner missing out, then Australia may consider elevating Matthew Wade to open and bring back Travis Head. The Aussies continue to have an issue at number five, as neither Wade nor Head has cemented that slot.

Travis Head of Australia (L) bats during day two

(Photo by Graham Denholm – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

At number six, Cameron Green performed admirably in the second innings and is an outstanding prospect, but batting when there was less pressure on is a different proposition to setting up a match in the first innings. There are some technical issues for Green to still work through in terms of his footwork.

Despite the last day rigours in Sydney, the home side is unlikely to change its bowling combination.

Winning the toss will be absolutely crucial. Arguably, Australia needs to win the toss more so and avoid their battle-weary fast bowlers having to back up so soon. Moreover, any lingering disappointment from Sydney needs to cast aside rapidly.

This is an extremely difficult match to predict. Both sides are well matched, and have their clear strengths and areas of concern. I lean ever so slightly to Australia given they have not lost a Test at the Gabba for more than three decades, and are not dealing with quite the same injury issues.

Moreover, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne are in fine form, especially and ominously so in the case Smith.

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Another extravaganza from the former captain could be the difference, however in this fascinating series, nothing would surprise and who really could discount India with any confidence?