India made "one of the great comebacks in the history of the game" in Melbourne and levelled the four-match Test series 1-1. After being bundled out for their lowest-ever Test score of 36 in the day-night series opener in Adelaide, Ajinkya Rahane and Co. displayed tremendous grit and determination in the second Test and schooled Australia in all three facets of the game. India would now look to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy when they take on Australia in the third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, starting from Thursday (January 7).
Meanwhile, Australia have been "sloppy" throughout the series and if not for that one session in Adelaide, Tim Paine's men would have easily been 0-2 down. Australia are desperate and are moving heaven and earth to play David Warner in Sydney, even if the southpaw is not 100 per cent fit. Meanwhile, India have their own injury concerns but will be boosted by the return of Rohit Sharma.
INDIA CAN'T LET SMITH AND LABUSCHAGNE OFF THE HOOK
The Indian bowlers have been relentless throughout the series and have done tremendously well to keep Australia's dangerous duo of Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne quiet in the first two Tests. Smith has given India many sleepless nights in the past, while Labuschagne has been scoring runs for fun ever since becoming the first concussion substitute during the 2019 Ashes series. The Indian bowlers however haven't allowed these two to dictate terms, and with them not firing, the Australian batting unit looks very mediocre.
R Ashwin and Jasprit Bumrah in particular have had the wood over Smith and Labuschagne so far in this series. Ashwin has dismissed Smith twice in 23 deliveries, while Bumrah knocked him over behind his legs in the last Test. The batting maestro has only managed 10 runs in four innings at an average of just 3.33 and India will have to make sure Smith doesn't regain his form. Meanwhile, Labuschagne has managed scores of 47, 6, 48 and 28 but has looked far from his best. The fourth-ranked Test batsman has failed to convert his starts and has also been extremely lucky with a couple of dropped catches and close lbw calls.
India have had clear plans for each Australian batsman and have managed to execute them perfectly. Of late, the Indian bowlers have had the better of Australia in red-ball cricket, with not a single Australian batsman managing a century in the last six Tests against India. To be honest, the Australian batsmen have simply not put enough pressure on Bumrah and Co. Australia's run rate after the first two Tests is 2.64 and they have been slammed for not showing enough intent.
If there's one man in the Australian batting line-up who defines the term "intensity", it's Warner. The left-handed opener has already made it clear that he is not going to be fully fit for the third Test but is willing to play through the pain. The home team have already released Joe Burns from the squad, with Warner being set to return to the top of Australia's under-performing batting order alongside likely debutant Will Pucovski. Warner averages 65.94 in Australia and the team management would want him to take the attack to the Indian bowlers.
India are going to test Pucovski with short-pitched bowling but Australian head coach Justin Langer believes that the 22-year-old "is in a great frame of mind and is incredibly positive about playing cricket". If that doesn't happen, they have another option in Marcus Harris. If two of these three play, Matthew Wade will have to move down the order and that would put Travis Head or Cameron Green’s spot in jeopardy.
Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon have been consistent with the ball but they would need their batsmen to step up and give them scores in excess of 300-350.
ROHIT IN, AGARWAL OUT
Rohit is set to make his much-awaited return in Sydney but there were some doubts over his batting spot. Skipper Ajinkya Rahane however confirmed that Rohit would open the innings along with Shubman Gill who made his Test debut in Melbourne. The right-hander from Mumbai has scores of 176, 127, 14, 212, 6 and 21 as an opener, so the most straightforward solution was to swap him with Mayank Agarwal who has only managed 31 runs in four innings and that's exactly what the team management did.
In the bowling department, India have replaced injured Umesh Yadav, who only bowled 3.3 overs in the second innings of the Melbourne Test, with Navdeep Saini. The latter was part of India's original Test squad but had stiff competition from Shardul Thakur and T Natarajan. The Sydney Cricket Ground has the best batting average (42.2) amongst all the venues in Australia and India would need someone like Saini who could hit the deck hard.
Right now, India look much more settled than Australia. Debutants Gill and Mohammed Siraj were impressive in the last Test and forced everyone to sit up and take notice. Meanwhile, Ravindra Jadeja gave India that much-required balance and chipped in all three departments of the game. There were also some question marks over Rahane's form but the stand-in skipper responded with a match-defining century to silence his critics. The Indian team management would now want Cheteshwar Pujara to do the same as the 32-year-old has only scored 477 runs in the last 18 innings, at an average of 26.5 with no centuries.
Australia's probable XI: David Warner, Will Pucovski, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Travis Head/Matthew Wade, Cameron Green, Tim Paine (c & wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
India's playing XI: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (c), Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Navdeep Saini, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj.