Mohali Test: Chance for India to script history against clueless Aussies
In the driver's seat after two convincing wins, the stage is perfect for India to record their biggest-ever series win over a depleted Australia, who have been rocked by off-field controversies and dissensions, ahead of the third cricket Test starting here tomorrow.
If the humiliating losses in Chennai and Hyderabad were not enough, the once mighty Australians were dealt a body blow with the expulsion of four key players, including vice-captain Shane Watson, for breach of discipline, ahead of their must-win game at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium.
While India had been whitewashed on quite a few occasions by the Kangaroos, the hosts' best efforts so far had been the 2-0 wins in 1979-80 (out of six Tests under Kim Hughes), 2008-09 (four matches) and 2010-11 (two games both under Ricky Ponting's captaincy). This time around, if they are able to make it 3-0 in Mohali, it will be a welcome first for Indian cricket, against Australia, who had thrashed them 4-0 the last time they met at the Aussies' den.
India have never won more than two Tests in a series against Australia. In the ongoing rubber, the visitors had been easily beaten by eight wickets in the opening Test in Chennai, before being inflicted an innings and a 135-run defeat in the second game in Hyderabad. And Australia's expulsion of four key players Watson, pacers James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson and batsman Usman Khawja -- have only brightened India's chances of scripting their best ever result against an opponent, who are going through a crisis situation.
Going into the match, India's primary cause of concern, though, could be the blow star batsman Cheteshwar Pujara suffered during a net session yesterday. Architect of India's victory in the second Test in Hyderabad with a magnificent double ton, Pujara was hit on the left knee by a local pace bowler as he was batting in the nets. The batsman looked in considerable pain as he was forced to leave the nets.
After getting medical attention, Pujara had his left-knee strapped and didn't take any further part in the training session. But, indications are that the Saurashtra batsman would be part of the playing XI, much to the chagrin of the Australian bowlers who have so far struggled to contain the technically solid India number three.
Even as the Australians will have some thinking to do as far as selecting their playing XI is concerned, India, save for the dropped Virender Sehwag, might be tempted to take the field with more or less the same winning combination. Of course, getting left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha for off-break bowler Harbhajan Singh, is one option the hosts, led admirably by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, will ponder over ahead of the penultimate match.
With Sehwag out of reckoning, Delhi boy Shikhar Dhawan -- who is waiting for his maiden Test call-up could also get an opportunity to open the batting alongside Murali Vijay, who slammed a big century in the last Test to cement his place for the time being after a run of poor scores. The middle-order wears a settled look with the young Pujara, Virat Kohli and veteran Sachin Tendulkar holding fort. In the nets, Tendulkar concentrated on playing the spinners mainly and faced a lot of deliveries from Harbhajan and Ojha.
Dhoni also enjoyed his batting session as Ishant Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja sent down a number of deliveries to the big-hitting captain. In the kind of batting form the hosts are in at the moment and with the cushion of a 2-0 lead, an attacking batsman like Dhoni will relish the prospect of taking on the Aussie bowlers. An unbeaten double century in the opening Test only adds to the belief that Dhoni, in fact, is the man to lead India to a massive win after a disappointing run in the last two years, which included defeats against England and Australia.
With the curator of the PCA stadium, Daljit Singh, who also happens to be in charge of the BCCI grounds and pitches committee, claiming that the track will assist the spinners, India will, in all likelihood, again pack their attack with slow bowlers. The ploy has, so far, worked for the hosts, and they are unlikely to disturb the combination, despite Mohali's tradition of providing wickets that favoured the fast bowlers. All seems well in the Indian camp and the hosts are assured that everything is under control.
The pitch has been the centre of much speculation over the last few days. Surely it will favour the spinners, but the Aussies can take heart from the fact that it won't be the crumbling tracks they endured in Chennai, and to a lesser extent, Hyderabad. But with four of their players gone, the options are very limited for the Aussies. Ed Cowan and David Warner will open the batting, with the out-of-form Phil Hughes coming in at number three. Both Cowan and Hughes figuring in the XI, despite a run of poor scores, will surely somewhat expose Australia's weaknesses even more.
The indomitable Michael Clarke, as in the first two matches, is again expected to shoulder the bulk of responsibility in batting considering Australia's thin experience in that department. Doughty is the appropriate word that best describes the Australian skipper's knocks in the first two Tests in Chennai and Hyderabad, but hopes of making a comeback in the four-match series will also hinge on others. IPL's latest million dollar baby, Glen Maxwell, who made his debut in the last Test in Hyderabad, is not a sure-shot starter but Moises Henriques, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc are again certainty.
One is yet to get a definitive answer on wicketkeeper-batsman Matthew Wade's fitness, but his cover Brad Haddin, is also set to be included in the line-up, with Xavier Doherty and Nathan Lyon as the two sinners. Even though they are set to miss the services of a few key players, Australia can only hope that the extraordinary turn of events off the field don't impact their performance in the match, which is a must-win one for them.
India (from): Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Australia (from): Michael Clarke (capt), Ed Cowan, David Warner, Phil Hughes, Matthew Wade, Glenn Maxwell, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Moises Henriques, Xavier Doherty, Steve Smith, Brad Haddin.
Match starts at 9.30 am (IST).