India finished both Tests within three days in dominant fashion to take an unassailable 2-0 lead and retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Now, moving to Indore after a break in proceedings, they will be looking to clinch the series outright, but more importantly confirm a berth in the ICC World Test Championship final scheduled for The Oval in London in June.
A win in Indore will confirm India’s place in the top two of the standings.
WTC standings after Delhi Test
Despite the convincing fashion in which India have gone about their business, it’s not been all smooth sailing for them. They were under pressure at the end of day two in Delhi, and there have been calls to bring in 23-year-old opener Shubman Gill in place of KL Rahul, who has managed 38 runs in three innings of the series.
On the eve of the Test, India captain Rohit Sharma played down Rahul’s removal from vice-captaincy but kept the door open for a change in team. Rahul, with 47 Tests under the belt, was Rohit’s deputy in the first two Tests but had that role taken off him for the final two matches, when the BCCI announced the squad (minus vice captain next to Rahul’s name).
“When we talk about players going through a tough time anyone with potential will be given enough time to prove themselves,” Rohit said at the press conference.
“His removal of vice-captaincy doesn’t indicate anything. As far as Gill and KL both are concerned, that is how they train and practice before any game. Today was an optional training session for the entire group. All 17-18 (in the squad) are in the reckoning. We have not yet finalised on our XI. I prefer to announce it at the toss.”
The bigger picture - The Oval
The Australia side that will be fielded in Indore will be missing several key players, including captain Pat Cummins, David Warner and Josh Hazlewood. That shouldn’t deter the focus for India which lies in the bigger picture - The Oval, in June. As a result, despite having the security of retaining the trophy, the pressure is not absent.
“It will be a great achievement for us,” Rohit said. “But we know that we need to cross that final hurdle, and for that we need to win the next game as well, so the focus is on this Test, how we can win this game, and not look too far ahead, because after this game we’ve got one more Test match to be played, and then after that there’s two months of IPL.”
“(In) this cycle after the last World Test Championship, the way we played, the way we played in certain conditions, has been remarkable.”
“I don’t want to talk about the World Test Championship. We’re not there yet. We want to win this game and then talk about it. But just speaking of it from the outside, clearly, I don’t think England is going to qualify, so both teams who are going to play the final will be neutral teams.”
He added: “It’s going to be exciting. There’s no home advantage, no conditions advantage. India have played a lot of cricket in England over the last couple of years. Australia have played a lot of cricket [there]. It’s not going to be alien conditions as such, to both teams who will make the final. It’ll be a good contest between the two teams, whoever those teams are.”
Security of lower order
Another aspect that the convincing nature of wins can’t mask is the ability of India’s turning pitches to cause a collapse even for the home side. In both Test matches, the lower order have helped the team spring a comeback.
“Yes these are our home conditions, but these are challenging conditions that we are playing in,” Rohit admitted.
“It is not easy for batters to keep scoring consistently. We were put under pressure in the last Test and we can expect the same here.”
Axar Patel, in particular is leading the charge lower down the order. Added with the efficient, experienced duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, the Indian batting is bolstered with enviable depth and security.
“They are quality batters. Even if we are four or five down we know we have the quality in our batsmen who can get the runs on board. If you have that kind of depth, some of the guys in the middle and top order can go out there and play freely. And that definitely gives us confidence,” he added.
Smith returns as captain
Meanwhile, stand-in skipper Steve Smith admitted to being frustrated with his performances in India where he has managed just 71 runs in four innings but confident his spell as skipper can revive the tourists’ fortunes after two dismal losses.
“I don’t think there’s been too many times I’ve walked off the field and I’ve gone, ‘what the hell am I doing?’ I was pretty angry. There hasn’t been too many times in my career where I’ve actually come off and just been bedazzled by what I’ve done. It wasn’t my finest moment,” he said of his dismissal to the sweep shot, a trend that was centre to Australia’s collapse in Delhi from a position of strength.
However, he is hopeful his leadership can deliver a turnaround in Indore and Ahmedabad.
“It normally brings the best out of me,” he said of the captaincy. “I’m excited about leading this week in Pat’s absence. I know these conditions well. It’s kind of like my second home playing over here, I’ve played a lot in India, I understand the intricacies of the game and what the wickets are likely to do. I’m looking forward to it.”
Australia will be heading in without their leading pace bowler and it is yet another blow to a side depleted by injuries. But like his counterpart, Smith also remained mysterious about the final XI but having all-rounder Cameron Green back in the mix gives Australia the option of three spinners on another expected turner.
“What it looked like today is pretty similar to what we’ve seen throughout the series so far,” Smith said of the Indore pitch.
Green and left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Starc missed the first two Tests but are expected to make the team tomorrow.
“We’ve got a few more options now with Green and (Mitchell) Starc back. It gives us some flexibility to see which way we want to go.”
There has been a lengthy break since the last match, and Australia will be hoping it gives them the chance to turn their batting fortunes around. Smith will hold the key once again.
With inputs from AFP
India squad: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KS Bharat, Ishan Kishan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Suryakumar Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat
Australia squad: Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Matt Kuhnemann, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Lance Morris, Todd Murphy, Matthew Renshaw, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson,
Note: David Warner, Pat Cummins (c), Ashton Agar, Josh Hazlewood are not available.
The match starts at 9.30 am IST.