India aim for clean sweep against jittery Australia
Standing on the cusp of history, an upbeat India will go for the kill against a beleaguered Australia as they aim for an unprecedented 4-0 clean sweep by inflicting another defeat on the visitors in the fourth and final cricket Test starting here tomorrow.
Although the Indian team under Mohammed Azharuddin enjoyed a clean sweep against Graham Gooch's England back in 1993 but it was a three-Test series. In their 81-year history of Test cricket, India have never won four consecutive Test matches in a series and Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his boys will certainly hold the distinction of being the first if they can get past Michael Clarke's men at the Feroze Shah Kotla.
Skipper Dhoni does not endorse the word 'revenge' in sport but there is no denying the fact that his band of boys will be keen on setting the record straight having lost the series 'Down Under' by an identical margin. A lot of people have been sceptical about praising the performance of the Indian team against an Australian side which many consider to be the most inexperienced team which has come for a series in the sub-continent. But this series win has certainly helped Dhoni in partially restoring his "Captain Cool" image which had taken a serious beating after losing 1-2 at home against England after eight consecutive Test losses overseas.
On paper, India start as overwhelming favourites on a low and slow Feroz Shah Kotla track as the Aussie batsmen are yet to decode India's spinners during a series which will be remembered for all wrong reasons from the visiting team's perspective. Adding to their woes, Michael Clarke is a doubtful starter and his unavailability will only dent their chance of salvaging some pride and ending the series on a happy note.
Shikhar Dhawan would be cursing his luck that he is missing out on an opportunity to play a Test match in front of his home crowd after suffering a knuckle injury while fielding.
Suresh Raina has got another lucky break in longer format despite repeated failures and knowing Dhoni's fondness for the UP left-hander, there is every possibility that he might get another shot to redeem his Test career. Given the lacklustre condition of the Australian bowling attack, one won't be surprised if Raina also feasts on Nathan Lyon and co. and his career gets a second wind. This will mean a tricky situation as to who will be opening the innings.
For all practical purposes, it is supposed to be Mumbai batsman Ajinkya Rahane who should be partnering the in-form Murali Vijay. There is a school of thought that Rahane has been earmarked for a slot in the middle-order and the wait might just get longer for the Mumbaikar. In case Rahane fails to earn his maiden Test cap, Cheteshwar Pujara might be seen opening with Vijay while Raina will be taking the No 5 slot in the batting order.
Virat Kohli, who has the experience of batting at No 3, is likely to be promoted. The Delhi Test will be 198th in Sachin Tendulkar's illustrious career and as per the ICC itinerary, India don't play any home Test matches in the next 12 months. So one doesn't know if the legend will be again seen in action in white flannels on the home soil.
The bowling attack looks more or less settled with both Bhuvneshwar Kumar and especially Ishant Sharma putting up a much improved performance in the Mohali Test match. What has been working for India is Bhuvneshwar has been good with the new ball and Ishant has managed to get some reverse swing going his way with the old ball.
With Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja also posing a lot of problems, the picture doesn't look bright for senior pro Harbhajan Singh. The veteran of 101 Test matches is likely to sit out once again at the expense of left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha.
For Australia, Shane Watson is all set to make a comeback after the 'Homework gate' episode while James Pattinson looks to be a direct replacement of injured left-arm pacer Mitchell Starc, who will undergo an ankle surgery.
Pattinson will share the new ball with workhorse Peter Siddle who was fantastic in both the innings in Mohali and looked very effective with the semi-new ball in India's second innings. Steven Smith's impressive 92 have certainly sealed his place in the playing XI. Phil Hughes' fledgling career has also got a fresh breath after his 69 in the second innings at Mohali. Hughes, who had not even accumulated 50 runs in the five innings prior to that might just retain his place. This would mean bad news for Usman Khawaja, who might then have to wait for his Test recall.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Suresh Raina, Ashok Dinda. Australia: Michael Clarke (capt), Shane Watson, Ed Cowan, David Warner, Phil Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Glenn Maxwell, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon, Moises Henriques, Xavier Doherty, Steve Smith, Brad Haddin, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Johnson. Match starts at 9.30 am (IST).