India’s historic series win in Australia in 2019 was marked by a rather dull climax as weather played spoilsport in Sydney. India were in the driver’s seat, a 3-1 win would have heartened the team more and it seemed imminent, but the game meandered to a draw with players spending far too much time in the dressing rooms and not on the field.

Virat Kohli and Co, however, had inflicted a moment that will rankle Australia for years to come.

It was at SCG that, arguably, one of the lowest points in Australia’s modern history of Test cricket came about. India enforced the follow on. The last time Australia were asked to bat again at home was in 1988. (England at the same venue). It marked the end of 172 consecutive home Tests where Australia went without following-on. At that point in the series, India had simply worn down Australia thanks largely to Cheteshwar Pujara’s batting (with help from some of the other batsmen) and a relentless bowling unit.

India now return to that iconic venue, but this time the series is fascinatingly poised with both teams trading punches in the first two rounds. If this was a boxing bout, Ajinkya Rahane and Tim Paine will both believe their team is capable of landing the knockout punch at SCG.

Sydney Test: Navdeep Saini to make debut, Rohit Sharma replaces Mayank Agarwal in India’s XI

Historically, SCG has not been the best of venues for India despite the oft-repeated line that the conditions in Sydney suit an Asian team perhaps the best.

Since that forgettable match in Sydney, however, Australia have bounced back alright as a Test team. They are not the unbeatable juggernauts anymore but are still among the best Test teams in the world and will take pride in the fact that they have not lost at SCG since 2011 (coming close in 2019, of course). Since 2005, Australia have lost only one match at the venue (against England in 2011) out of 17 and all but of three of those produced outright results.

Australia's record at home venues since 2000

Venue Matches played Wins Losses Drawn Win %
Gabba, Brisbane 20 16 0 0 4 80.00%
SCG, Sydney 23 17 2 0 4 73.91%
Adelaide Oval 21 15 3 0 3 71.43%
MCG, Melbourne 21 15 4 0 2 71.43%
Hobart 8 5 2 0 1 62.50%
WACA, Perth 17 10 4 0 3 58.82%
Min 5 matches at the venue

In India’s past tours, only once have they won at SCG, albeit coming close twice – in 2004 and 2019. SCG, despite being witness to some extraordinary batting performances from the touring Indian sides over the years, has not exactly been a happy hunting ground with six defeats. The lone win came a good 42 years back.

AUS vs IND match results at SCG

Winner Result Margin Match start Date
draw - 12 Dec 1947
Australia won 144 runs 26 Jan 1968
India won inns & 2 runs 7 Jan 1978
Australia won inns & 4 runs 2 Jan 1981
draw - 2 Jan 1986
draw - 2 Jan 1992
Australia won inns & 141 runs 2 Jan 2000
draw - 2 Jan 2004
Australia won 122 runs 2 Jan 2008
Australia won inns & 68 runs 3 Jan 2012
draw - 6 Jan 2015
draw - 3 Jan 2019

India's Test wins in Australia

Margin Toss Bat Ground Start Date
222 runs won 1st Melbourne 30 Dec 1977
inns & 2 runs lost 2nd Sydney 7 Jan 1978
59 runs lost 1st Melbourne 7 Feb 1981
4 wickets lost 2nd Adelaide 12 Dec 2003
72 runs won 1st Perth 16 Jan 2008
31 runs won 1st Adelaide 6 Dec 2018
137 runs won 1st Melbourne 26 Dec 2018
8 wickets lost 2nd Melbourne 26 Dec 2020

India's record in Tests in Australia

Venues Matches  Won Lost Tied Draw W/L
Melbourne Cricket Ground 14 4 8 0 2 0.500
Adelaide Oval 13 2 8 0 3 0.250
Sydney Cricket Ground 12 1 5 0 6 0.200
W.A.C.A. Ground, Perth 4 1 3 0 0 0.333
Brisbane Cricket Ground 6 0 5 0 1 0.000
Perth Stadium 1 0 1 0 0 0.000

Having touched nadir and zenith in a span of 10 days to close out 2020, Rahane’s India will look to start afresh against Australia with Rohit Sharma’s presence adding a new dimension to what promises to be an enthralling third Test starting Thursday.

In India’s Boxing Day Test win, Mohammed Siraj landed quite a few punches of his own

If Rahane’s side can go 2-1 up and ensure the retention of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, it will be one of the finest hours in the history of Indian cricket. Making it even more special is the fact that the side has been without some of their best performers.

Seldom has an Australian batting unit, that boasts of a player of Steve Smith’s calibre, looked so circumspect and seemingly intimidated by an Indian bowling unit. The word timid has been thrown around by some of the biggest names in Australian cricket; Ricky Ponting and Glenn McGrath have been especially critical of their batting approach.

But mind you, the visitors are picking up the pieces as they go along as well. At SCG, pacer Navdeep Saini will make his debut replacing Umesh Yadav who went home following an injury.

Change of fortunes: How India’s selection calls paid off in brilliant Melbourne Test victory

All eyes on Hitman

In this backdrop, enter Rohit Sharma, whose last couple of months have been filled with off-field drama. First it was his absence from the initial part of the tour due to a hamstring injury sustained while playing the IPL. Then his subsequent quarantine for two weeks in a Sydney apartment. And when he finally united with his teammates, an excited fan inside a Melbourne restaurant led to an inquiry against him and four other teammates for what was called by the local media, a potential bio-security breach.

But the white-ball legend has reportedly looked in good touch during intense net sessions and Rahane was quick to point that out as he confirmed Rohit will open the batting. His presence should add spring in the strides of the team and the youngsters in this current set-up will benefit from having him around.

The Sydney track has largely favoured the batsmen as Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, Sachin Tendulkar and even Pujara and Rishabh Pant, who got centuries here during last tour, will vouch for. If Rohit and Shubman Gill can give the team a good start, the short-on-runs Pujara will be much more relieved while playing his signature defensive game.

Rahane, after one of his more copybook hundreds constructed in adversity during the last game, will enter the arena with more confidence while facing the Australian quartet of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon.

Meanwhile, KL Rahul’s injury has given Hanuma Vihari one more chance despite his returns being as underwhelming as Mayank Agarwal, who has been dropped to make way for Rohit.

Whether it’s Siraj or Saini, whoever shares the new ball will have their task cut out as they aim to match the highest standards set by the likes of Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. Siraj has come in for a lot of praise for his displays on debut and Saini would look to follow suit.

Pressure on Australia

The pressure is understandable on Australia who are desperate to see David Warner come good to combat fire with fire.

“He is energetic, professional, who could make an instant impact and fills guys with confidence,” Paine’s words on the eve of the match indicated their desperation.

It is Australia’s wobbly batting that will again be put to test by Ashwin Ravichandran on a track, that has traditionally helped spinners.

With 10 wickets and a new-found confidence, Ashwin has won both on and off-field battle against opposition’s key players such as Smith and Marnus Labuschagne. It’s not just the wickets that he has picked up, but the manner in which the intelligent spinner has managed to create doubts in the minds of world class batters that has stood out.

Tactical tweaks, delightful drift: Breaking down Ashwin Ravichandran’s great form in Australia

As much as Australia needs Smith to be back in form, they would also need someone like Travis Head to deliver as he has failed to get a hang of both pace and spin.

Jasprit Bumrah, who is still some games short of 20 Tests, will be leading the pace attack and is expected to show the way with his bagful of tricks.

If this series has taught us anything so far, it would be that it’s foolish to write a team off after a less than favourable build-up to a match. India looked the better team on paper ahead of Adelaide and ended up losing it after just one bad session, and after overcoming a fair few obstacles in the lead-up to Melbourne, showed why they are a team that is hard to beat. Australia, on their part, will bank on their bowlers to script a similar turnaround.

Mind you, there is the bigger picture to be kept in mind as well, since both India and Australia need to keep up the pace in the World Test Championship, where New Zealand have laid down an impressive marker.

It’s all to play for, once again.


Australia: David Warner, Matthew Wade, Will Pucovski, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Tim Paine (captain and wk), Nathan Lyon, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazzlewood, Marcus Harris, Mitchell Swepson, Michael Neser

India (confirmed XI): Rohit Sharma (vc), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ashwin Ravichandran, Mohammed Siraj, Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini

With PTI inputs

Statistics courtesy: ESPNcricinfo Statsguru

The match starts at 5 am IST (toss at 430 am) and will be broadcast on Sony Sports Pictures Network