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A stricken Aussie team fights for series survival

Last updated on 28 Feb 2023 | 04:00 AM
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A stricken Aussie team fights for series survival

In the absence of Pat Cummins, Steven Smith will lead the team in the third Test

Can it get any worse for Australia? In the first Test, they were mentally rattled even before the start of the match. In the second, even after being in the drivers’ seat at the end of Day 2, they were swept away with some dim-witted cricket.

Heading onto the third, they are short of men. Cummins has flown back for a heartbreaking reason, Ashton Agar returned to play Sheffield and both David Warner and Josh Hazlewood are injured and ruled out. A team of 18 had come for a challenging series against India, and they are now down to 15, even after adding a replacement.

Some of them have come as blessings in disguise. Warner was struggling in the three innings he batted. Now that he is ruled out, Travis Head who showed a glimpse of success as an opener in the second innings will take over his position. Whether it was a one-inning wonder or not, with Head at the top, before the pitch settles in for the spinners, Australia can expect some quick runs.

However, the shift in venue might not be a blessing. Initially, this Test was scheduled to be played in Dharamshala, a venue in which one of their four totals of 300+ (since 2013) was witnessed. Unfortunately, the match has shifted to a venue where Indian batters average 90.4 in two matches as compared to 20.4 by others.

On the other hand, India have now set one foot into the WTC finals. If they win this Test, then a berth is confirmed for the successive year since its inception.

Things to watch out for  

KL Rahul under the pump

A lot of heat will be around KL Rahul, if he gets a chance that is. With an average of 15.9 since 2022, the right-handed opener has been the talk of the town. So much so that two ex-Indian cricketers have even been involved in a Twitter war.

Rahul was dropped after similar failures in 2018 and 2019. In 2021, when he made a comeback, he found ways to score in difficult conditions. In the year 2021, he scored 461 runs at an average of 46.1 with two centuries, one at Lord’s and the other in centurion. But, once again, he has gone into a shell.

This is something that has been happening throughout his Test career. In 2016-17, he scored at an average of 59.9 (nine innings) and 48.7 (14 innings) respectively. Then came the downfall. In the preceding two years, he averaged 22.3 (2018) and 22 (2019). Post his comeback, the pattern has been the same.

With Shubman Gill breathing fire around his neck, Rahul needs to make it count in this Test, if he gets a chance that is.

India’s lower order, the difference maker

It hasn’t been an easy series for the batters. Apart from the Rohit Sharma century, there isn’t much to differentiate between the two teams' top three.

Overall, India’s top three batters have scored 275 runs at an average of 34.4 with only one 50+ score. Out of those 275, 183 runs belong to Rohit. In comparison, Australia’s top three have scored more runs (281) than India, but the average is lower (23.4).

Both teams' middle order (4-6) have been absolutely dismal. India’s middle three batters average 19.5 as compared to 19.6 by Australia.

Now comes the differentiators - Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin and Axar Patel. India’s lower order batters (7-9) have scored 279 runs at an average of 46.5, with three 50+ scores. Whereas, Australia’s lower order batters have averaged 8.6, scoring just 103 runs.

Can Captain Smith stand up, please?

For most of the players, captaincy comes in as a burden. In any case, Steve Smith is one of those different breeds of captains. He just loves performing as a captain.

In Tests, he has captained Australia in 34 Tests and averages 67.3 after scoring 3793 runs. Among batters who have scored 2000+ runs as a captain, only the decorated Sir Don Bradman (101.5) has a higher average than Smith.

Adding more, he has an overall average of 81.1 against India as a skipper. He has scored 1054 runs against the opponent in 14 innings. In those 14 innings, he has converted six into a century out of seven 50+ scores. Australia, in a dire situation, needs something special from this man.

Pitch and conditions

Holkar Stadium, Indore, has hosted only two Tests, one in 2016 against New Zealand, and the other against Bangladesh in 2019. India batted three innings and the maximum number of wickets they lost in an innings was six against Bangladesh. Their totals read: 557/5d & 216/3d vs NZ and 493/6 vs BAN.

Both New Zealand and Bangladesh batted in both innings, and none of them could cross the 300-run barrier.

However, Indore has been one of those venues that has something for the pacers as well as spinners, unlike Delhi. In Tests, as well as the recent First-class matches. In the two Tests, spinners have bagged 28 wickets at a bowling strike rate of 67 and an average of 38.8. Whereas, the pacers have picked up 22 wickets at a balls/wicket ratio of 77 and an average of 43.1.

In FC matches since 2022, pacers have bagged the larger chunk of wickets (126) and have a better average (24.5) and strike rate (28.2) as compared to spinners (87 wickets at 28.2 average and 63 strike rate).

Tactical nous

- Alex Carrey’s go-to shot against spinners has been the sweep shot (all kinds). However, his downfall has also been that shot. After his first innings attack, Indian spinners started to pull the length back. Anything around the 2-5-meter mark, Carey has comfortably swept it. However, when bowled around the 6-8m length, he has had three dismissals.

-Cameron Green’s inclusion will boost Australia in many ways. With his inclusion, they can afford to play three spinners without compromising on a batter or a pacer. However, Aussies will hope that he also doesn’t go down sweeping. In Tests in Asia, Green has been dismissed thrice sweeping and he averages 8.7 while playing this shot. Against other strokes, he has only two dismissals and averages 72.

Team News

Does the team management still have faith in KL Rahul? We will get to know about it. The only change that we could see if that happens is Gill replacing him.

India Probable XI: Rohit Sharma (c), Shubman Gill/KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Ravindra Jadeja, KS Bharat (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Mohammad Shami, Mohammed Siraj.

A partially fit Mitchell Starc and a fully fit Cameron Green will barrage into the team. Matt Renshaw’s horror show in the three innings will make way for green and Starc comes in as the skipper’ replacement.

Australia Probable XI: Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith (c), Alex Carey (wk), Peter Handscomb, Cameron Green, Mitchell Starc, Todd Murphy, Nathan Lyon, Matt Kuhnemann.

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