Mumbai: India’s unwavering pursuit of history hit a minor glitch at the 11th hour with injury concerns but Virat Kohli’s men will still walk in as overwhelming favourites against a faltering Australia in the fourth and final Test starting in Sydney on Thursday.
Leading 2-1 in the four-match series, India remain firm favourites to make it 3-1 at the Sydney Cricket Ground despite serious fitness issue pertaining to their premier spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and senior pacer Ishant Sharma, who has not been named in the 13-member list.
Australia have hosted India since 1947-48, and barring three occasions — in 1980-81, 1985-86 and 2003-04 which were drawn — they have lost the Test series on seven occasions — 1967-68, 1977-78, 1991-92, 1999-2000, 2007-08, 2011-12, 2014-15.
Virat Kohli, thus, is in a unique position as the only Indian captain to go into the final Test on Australian soil with the cushion of a series lead.
A series win in Australia will certainly put Kohli on a higher pedestal even though the quality of the home team’s batting line-up suffered adversely due to the bans of former skipper Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner.
However, Kohli will have some thinking to do over his team combination as the skipper revealed that senior off-spinner Ashwin hasn’t adequately recovered from his injury despite being named in the preliminary 13-member squad.
With spin considered a traditional factor in any Sydney Test, India were left fretting over the fitness of Ashwin, who is yet to recover from left abdominal strain that laid him low after the first Test in Adelaide.
Ishant Sharma is out after experiencing discomfort in his left rib cage and the team management didn’t want to risk him by playing him in the decider.
While Ashwin had played on in Nottingham and Southampton despite a groin injury )as revealed by the team management only at the Oval), he has already missed two Tests — in Perth and Melbourne — in the on-going series.
In a strange u-turn, after he was ruled out at the time of Kohli’s pre-match press conference, Ashwin has been named in the 13-man shortlist for this fourth Test.
A final decision on his fitness and availability for the match will be taken at toss-time.
Additionally, India have included left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav as cover, in case the skipper decides to go in with two spinners.
Umesh Yadav has been included in the shortlist ahead of an injured Ishant Sharma, along with Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah.
Meanwhile, in Rohit Sharma’s absence, out-of-favour opener KL Rahul could be slated for a comeback after missing out in Melbourne, with Hanuma Vihari slotting down to his number six spot.
This is on assumption that regardless of Ashwin’s fitness, India will opt to play four bowlers, whether in a two-pacer-two spinners or three-pacers-one-spinner combination.
There is no option of playing an all-rounder as Hardik Pandya continues to be ignored, despite a hectic pre-match workout in the nets with both bat and ball. Kohli has described Vihari as an ‘exciting’ spinner and he will be the second spin option, if India retain their bowling combination from the MCG Test.