Astonishingly, Virat Kohli has never fielded the same playing XI in back-to-back Tests in his tenure as Indian captain so far, comprising 25 Tests. And so, we cannot say for certain if he will stick with the combination which helped India clinch a series-levelling win in Bangalore, for the third Test in Ranchi.
Abhinav Mukund played the second Test in place of his state team-mate, Murali Vijay, who was out with a shoulder injury. Conspicuously, Kohli did not provide any injury news in his pre-match press conference ahead of the Bangalore Test.
Now, the Indian squad for the final two Australia Tests has only one change: Hardik Pandya, who too has a shoulder injury, was released after the 75-run win in the second Test. The likes of Mukund and Kuldeep Yadav have retained their places in the squad. We also presume that Murali Vijay has regained fitness and will return to India’s playing XI for the third Test, to be played at the 26th Indian Test venue (JSCA Stadium, Ranchi).
For the second Test, Kohli and the Indian team management compromised on their philosophy of four specialist bowlers and one all-rounder: they sacrificed a bowler and included a specialist batsman (Karun Nair) in the side.
Albeit this selection did not quite yield the desired result, with Nair failing to convert a start (26) in the first innings and being clean bowled by Mitchell Starc for a golden duck in the second innings, the Indian team management should not leave out the Karnataka batsman after just one Test. They are unlikely to make what would be a really harsh decision.
Playing six specialist batsmen means that India can field only three out-and-out bowlers: two pacers and one spinner, with Ashwin the all-rounder, of course. The quartet of Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, and Ashwin toiled hard for a majority of the four days in Bangalore, albeit they will have been cock-a-hoop at the end, having bowled India to a vital victory.
You can expect the Ranchi pitch to be on the drier side and consequently, spinner-friendly. With a majority in the Australian batting line-up being left-handers—Australia’s XI for the third Test is likely to have six left-hand batsmen, of which two are tailenders (Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe)—Kohli has been hesitant to use Jadeja to a great extent.
And the Indian skipper did come under criticism for under-bowling the Saurashtra left-arm spinner in Australia’s first innings in Bangalore, particularly on the second day, when Matthew Renshaw and Shaun Marsh played long innings for their team. Jadeja, though, proved his captain wrong by taking the most number of wickets (6) in the first innings, with three of his half-a-dozen wickets being left-handers.
Kohli will ideally like another off-spinner in the side, but because the Indian batsmen have been susceptible to spin so far in this four-Test series and the skipper himself hasn’t been among the runs—only once in the four innings in the India vs Australia Test Series, India have managed a total of over 200 (274 all out in the second innings of the Bengaluru Test)—the Indian captain should and will likely play Nair and persevere with the three specialist bowlers.
As a result,
The likely Indian playing XI for the third Australia Test in Ranchi is as follows: Virat Kohli*, Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, and Umesh Yadav
Actual Indian playing XI for Ranchi Test (same as what Cricfooty had predicted!): Virat Kohli*, Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, and Umesh Yadav