It’s been a while in Australian cricket Summers since a series was still in the balance heading into the final Test. But considering the evenness of this series between Australia and India, a better result couldn’t have been asked for.
With the Border-Gavaskar Trophy already in its hands and the series scoreline still sitting at one win apiece, A draw will seal the series for India while it’ll be win or bust for Australia. Who will be eager to continue their dominance displayed for the majority of the third test in Sydney and add to imposing record at the Gabba.
Despite all the off-field controversies and dramas that have come with the series, it all comes back to the cricket and who wins the game on the field.
The Inner Sanctum looked at the players and statistics set to have an impact in the series decider.
Australia’s dominance at the ‘Gabba in Brisbane is well-publicized – it has not lost a match at the venue since 1988 – so the hosts will be confident in their ability to seal the series with a win come Friday.
Within this streak which has lasted 31 matches, Australia has won five matches by nine wickets or more (four of which were 10-wicket victories), seven matches by over 150 runs, and recorded eight innings victories. Just seven of these matches have ended in a draw, highlighting the sheer dominance the Aussies hold at the ‘Gabba.
With a record such as Australia’s, it should come as no surprise that India has never won a match at the ‘Gabba. However, the teams have only faced off at the venue six times. The most recent of these was in 2014, Australia winning by four wickets. This was Josh Hazlewood’s first Test match, and he marked the occasion by taking 5/68 in the first innings.
With the draw in Sydney, the win-loss ledger between the teams remains the same, Australia winning 43 matches, India winning 29, with 28 draws and one tie.
It’s no surprise that Cummins leads the series wicket-taking charts. The world’s number one Test bowler has taken 15 wickets at 18.13 in the three matches so far. While the duel between Cummins and Jasprit Bumrah looks like it has come to an unfortunate end, with the Indian spearhead ruled out of the final Test due to an abdominal injury, Cummins will feel right at home at the ‘Gabba, the ground at which his best innings and match figures have come.
Cummins has taken 19 wickets in three Tests at the ‘Gabba, with innings figures of 6/23 and match figures of 10/62 against Sri Lanka the clear highlight. He’s also coming off the incredible first-innings figures of 4/29 from 21 overs at the SCG and will be hoping to replicate the feat in Brisbane.
Cummins’ ability to get a much-needed breakthrough for Australia has been incredibly important, with his ability to hit a consistent line and length on display throughout the series, and during India’s innings of 36 at Adelaide in particular. A fully firing Cummins will be vital should Australia secure a match – and series – win at the ‘Gabba.
Despite a large majority of his credentials coming in the white-ball formats, Sharma’s experience was invaluable to the Indian outfit at the SCG. His 33-test experience netted him scores of 26 and 52, more importantly recording strong opening partnerships of 70 and 71 with youngster Shubman Gill.
With injuries taking their toll on the Indian squad, and a severely depleted batting lineup as a result, Sharma’s international experience will again be vital for India at the ‘Gabba, which also sees him named vice-captain of the side.
India will need Sharma to play a similar role in Sydney as an experienced and cool head at the top of the order, particularly as Australia returns to the Gabba, a fast and bouncy wicket which is also very batting-friendly. A substantial contribution from Sharma could certainly see India pile on a good score, which will go a long way to helping India win the match – or even draw – and retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy
Cheteshwar Pujara v Australia’s bowlers
India only needs to draw the fourth Test to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy, having won the series in 2018-19 and fought back well and hard to level the current series to 1-1 after three matches. Pujara has been the thorn in Australia’s side in both series, with an average of 54.69 in Tests in Australia since the beginning of the 2018-19 series.
Pujara’s ability to bat for long periods is evidently the key factor of his game, as he averages 223 balls faced per innings against Australia since 2018, in innings where he’s faced more than 100 balls.
Australia’s bowlers will undoubtedly have to toil to dismiss Pujara, but have certainly shown that it’s possible to remove him early, dismissing the Indian batsman for scores of 0 (8 balls), 17 (70 balls) and 3 (4 balls) across the first two tests in Adelaide and Melbourne. Cummins has dismissed Pujara four times during the current series, with Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood also dismissing him once each.
Pujara will be aiming to occupy the crease for as long as possible at the ‘Gabba, to ensure India can draw or win the match and retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy. It looms as an intriguing battle, and thus one that will be key to determining the final series result.
Players to watch
It’s been confirmed that Harris will take Will Pucovski’s place in Australia’s XI, as his victorian counterpart will miss the fourth Test with a shoulder injury. Harris’ achievements in the current Sheffield Shield season have gone relatively unnoticed, due to Pucovski’s incredible form with the bat. Harris sits fifth on the 2020-21 Sheffield Shield run-scoring list, despite having played two fewer matches than the majority of the competition’s batsmen. Harris has made scores of 239 (which came in a 486-run partnership with Pucovski), 71, and 45, proof that he’s certainly one of the most in-form batsmen in the country.
Four of Harris’ nine test matches have come against India, and both of his Test fifties – scores of 70 and 79 – came in his debut series in 2018/19. With an injury-depleted and inexperienced Indian bowling lineup, Harris will be desperate to take this opportunity and cement his name in the selectors’ minds as a test-quality opener.
India’s fast bowling stocks seem like a carousel at the moment – it has gone into each Test this series with a different fast bowling cartel. India will go into the fourth Test with no more than four Tests’ experience in its fast-bowling cartel, and Saini will therefore be key, having debuted at the SCG.
The 28-year-old impressed in his debut, recording figures of 2/65 and 2/54 in a match dominated by the Aussie batsmen, taking the wickets of Will Pucovski, Mitchell Starc, Marnus Labuschagne and Matthew Wade. He’ll need to step up in Jasprit Bumrah’s absence, but certainly showed all the signs that he’s able to do so.
Saini has four first-class four-wicket hauls to his name, as well as four five-wicket hauls, with an average of 28.5 and a tidy economy of 2.87.
Just when it looked like the Aussie team would be settled and injury-free with David Warner returning and Will Pucovski debuting, the hosts have been dealt a cruel blow, the latter ruled out with a shoulder injury. Aside from Pucovski, the Aussies look to have an empty injury list, though backup fast bowlers Michael Neser and Sean Abbott could be on standby should Australia look to rest one of its front-line fast bowlers due to the quick turnaround from the third test.
India’s injury list is quite the opposite of Australia’s, and after a brutal third Test on the injury front, it will be without many of its frontline players. Ravindra Jadeja will miss the final Test after sustaining a broken thumb in India’s first innings, as will Jasprit Bumrah, due to an abdominal strain. Aside from these key losses for India, batsman Hanuma Vihari will also likely miss after a hamstring tear suffered while batting in India’s second innings, which he endured during the match-saving rearguard with Ravi Ashwin. Ashwin and Rishabh Pant will also be monitored heavily after batting through back soreness and an arm injury respectively, though neither are likely to miss.
David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Cameron Green, Tim Paine, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Mayank Agarwal, Rishabh Pant, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravi Ashwin, Navdeep Saini, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur
First Test: December 17-21, Adelaide Oval, Australia won by eight wickets
Second Test: December 26-30, MCG, India won by eight wickets
Third Test: January 7-11, SCG, Match drawn
Fourth Test: January 15-19, Gabba, 11am AEDT
Tim Paine (c/wk), Sean Abbott, Pat Cummins, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, Will Pucovski, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade, David Warner
Ajinkya Rahane (c), Rohit Sharma (vc), Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Rishabh Pant (wk), Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, T Natarajan