There is something that playing against Australia ignites in the Indian cricket team. It started with a bunch of cricketers at the turn of the century for whom Aussies were the benchmark for the best in the world. The next generation followed up knowing that to remain the best in the world, they cannot let Australia dictate terms.
Nothing else can explain India’s fightback after being rolled over in a session and their lowest-ever score in the first Test. Hanuma Vihari with a hamstring down and Ravichandran Ashwin with a sore back batted 259 deliveries to save the SCG Test while Ravindra Jadeja with a broken thumb was set and ready to go out if needed. This will be one of the most iconic stories of grit in the current lot of Indian cricketers and their absolute determination to not concede to the perennial best side in the world.
The performance in Melbourne and Sydney establish two things – one that the series-win in 2018 was not a fluke and second that India is perhaps the only team right now that is challenging teams away from home.
It is by now a point of common discussion that India have lost as many players due to various injuries as there are a number of body parts to injure oneself. This is when they are playing without their best batsman. All this has acted as a unifier for the team. Senior men in skipper Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma have been a lot more expressive. Rohit even delivered the speech in team huddles and conversed with bowlers frequently.
Such has been the bench strength for India in the pace department that it is tough to digest that Mohammed Siraj is in his debut series. This is in stark contrast to older times when after Zaheer Khan hobbled off due to an injury in England, there was no coming back. Similar was the case with Javagal Srinath who used to bowl slower than he could since he knew he has to bowl long spells due to minimal help from the other end.
Now with Jasprit Bumrah ruled out for the last Test, India are without any of the five pacers who were part of the squad in the triumph here in 2018-19. Moreover, Jadeja’s injury means India will be without their first-choice allrounder. In all likelihood, Vihari will be out as well while Ashwin is under assessment. With the injured list piling on, putting together a playing XI is not an envious job anymore. This happens to be the only time in this series when India will not announce their XI a day in advance.
Australia are not without issues of their own. Their opening combination will change once again as Will Pucovski is out due to a shoulder injury he sustained in Sydney. Marcus Harris is set to join the scratchy David Warner at the top. It is an easy observation by now that their batting hinges on their numbers three and four.
In the 2019 Ashes, Australia rotated their pacers to adopt a horses for courses approach. Pat Cummins was the only pacer to play all five Tests then. Such has been the trial that India have put them under that they have not even considered resting one of them. Going into the Brisbane Test, Australia pacers have a lot of overs behind their back. Cummins has bowled 111.1 himself which are next to only Bumrah with 117.4. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood have bowled 98 each. Talking about workload, Nathan Lyon himself acknowledged – “After 99 Test matches, this [Sydney Test] is the first time I have ever done an ice bath after a Test”.
Lyon is set to become the second Aussie spinner after Shane Warne to play a 100 Tests. But, the series which has helped him reach this milestone has been the least memorable one. While the pacers have troubled India’s batsmen every time, India have done well to counter Lyon. On numbers, Lyon has had his least-effective series at home till date.
After discussions around a possible venue change, Australia are set to challenge India in their fortress in Brisbane. Every Australian player with a public engagement in the last week or so has made their love for the venue where they have not lost since December 1988 clear. Having to put on a brave face, Tim Paine was smug to iterate that he doesn’t even have to go and have a look at the surface since he knew what it is going to be like. A more grounded Lyon was more aware of the challenge and stated – “We know how talented India are, we know how hungry they are to come out and win this series”.
The showdown in Brisbane is as important in the context of the series as it is in the broader context of the World Test Championship. With injury accounting for Bumrah and Jadeja, Brisbane might be a bridge too far for India. But, one can never be certain what the fresh challenge might ignite in them when they set out for the battle that matters.
Australia Playing XI: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Cameron Green, Tim Paine (c & wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
India Probable XI: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane ©, Rishabh Pant, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Kuldeep Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Mohammed Siraj.