Dharamsala: What Should Ideally Be India’s Playing XI for the Fourth Test vs Australia?

The Indian think tank must select a playing XI which will help the team achieve a result in Dharamsala. 

Against Australia in Ranchi, India played to a template which had brought them resounding success merely three months back against a very good English Test side.

Here’s a recap of what happened: in the fourth Test in Mumbai, England posted 400 batting first and more often than not, a first innings total of 400 shouldn’t see you lose a Test match. England, though, were not just playing against an in-form Indian Test side but also an in-form Virat Kohli. The in-form Indian skipper’s double century (235), in addition to attractive centuries from Murali Vijay (136) and Jayant Yadav (104), in India’s first innings gave the hosts a sizeable 231-run lead. India were 231 runs ahead of England before tea on day four and on what was a lively Wankhede pitch, India, aided by Ravichandran Ashwin‘s incisive off-spinners, bowled England out in the second innings for 195 runs just 30 minutes into the first session on day five, to win the Test by an innings and 36 runs and take an unassailable 3-0 series lead.

In the final Test in Chennai too, India did to England what teams have done to them in the past: challenge your opponent to bat out the final day to save the Test match. England, uncharacteristically, couldn’t. But what you must also not forget is, India didn’t rely on just Ashwin to win them that Test match. Instead, Ravindra Jadeja (7/48) stepped in for his team in the second innings while his spin twin was not in good rhythm and skittled out England for just 207 towards the end of day five. The result: India won the Chennai Test by an innings and 75 runs.

In essence, therefore, the Ranchi Test was going to plan for India, except that the pitch on offer was a little on the slower side and hadn’t deteriorated a lot.

On the contrary, you can take issue with the fact that India, even with Cheteshwar Pujara occupying the crease for over 10 hours and being given good company by Wriddhiman Saha, didn’t score their runs quickly and took 210 overs for posting 603/9 declared (a run rate of 2.87). And, because they had played this number of overs, India could bowl only 100 overs in the Australian second innings. And, on a slow pitch, 100 overs weren’t enough to bowl the Aussies out for a second time.

Now, looking ahead to the fourth Australia Test in Dharamsala, India cannot afford to miscalculate time, the overs they require to post a total or dismiss Australia and also the playing XI they must field, to give themselves the best chance of winning.

Australia are the holders of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and a 1-1 series result will see Steve Smith’s men retain the trophy. I do not think the visitors will play for a draw at the HPCA Stadium, albeit they will have drawn plenty of confidence from denying India a win in Ranchi. Therefore, if the situation commands, Australia might choose to play within themselves and play on India’s patience.

The question for India is, should they make changes to their playing XI for the final Test vs Australia?

India’s Playing XI for the 4th Test vs Australia

India should and will pick an XI which is best suited to the conditions on offer.

The big news coming through from Dharamsala less than 37 hours before the start of the fourth Test, is Shreyas Iyer, the Mumbai batsman who slammed an unbeaten double hundred (202*) against Australia for India A in the tour match at the Brabourne Stadium before the four-Test series, has been called up as cover for captain Kohli.

Albeit Kohli batted in India’s second innings in Ranchi and then captained the team on day five, his injured right shoulder might still be causing him discomfort.

I strongly believe that Kohli, given the person he is, will want to lead India in what is a must-win Test if on Saturday morning (25 March) he feels 80-90 per cent fit.

Traditionally, Dharamsala has been conducive to swing and seam bowling. And, as a bowler if you present an upright seam or get the seam position right depending on the way you want the ball to move, you will swing the ball in the air and off the pitch.

In the most recent ODI played at the HPCA Stadium, which will become the 27th Indian Test venue, between India and New Zealand, debutant Hardik Pandya was in great bowling rhythm and he moved the ball both ways to trouble the New Zealand top order. For an ODI starting at 1.30pm, the white kookaburra ball moved prodigiously and the greatest challenge for the Indian new-ball bowlers was controlling the swing.

Even though we are at a different time of the year now and play starts at 9:30 AM, I expect the pacers and swing bowlers to get a fair bit of assistance in Dharamsala.

Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma have been fantastic with the ball in the India v Australia Test series. Both these bowlers have had more than one plan up their sleeve and against an Australian batting line-up dominated by left-handers, Umesh and Ishant have been particularly lethal from round the wicket, with their ability to angle the ball in and then get it to leave the left-handers and occasionally, go straight on and wrap the batsmen on the pads or disturb the furniture.

Now, after the conclusion of the third Test, Kohli dropped a bombshell in saying that Mohammed Shami, who has been out of the Indian side since November 2016 due to a right knee injury, could be drafted into the Indian squad for the fourth Test against Australia. And earlier today, Shami joined up with the rest of the squad in Dharamsala.

The UP-born Bengal pacer took a four-fer (4/26) against Tamilnadu in the Vijay Hazare Trophy final and seems to have attained the necessary match practice for him to potentially come straight into India’s playing XI for the final Test of this Indian home season.

As the most accomplished fast bowler in the current Indian side, Shami will automatically walk into the playing XI whenever he isn’t injured.

But who could Shami come in place of?

Umesh Yadav has been in excellent bowling form throughout India’s home season, which he has played the entirety of. The Vidarbha pacer has become a lot more accurate with his line and length, and consequently is a lot more reliable. He is nippy and does hit the bat hard.

Ishant, on the other hand, has had a good series against Australia, albeit the number of wickets (3) does not justify his efforts and how lethal he has been with the ball. He bowls particularly well against the left-handers, with his stock delivery leaving the left-hander and keeping the slip cordon on alert.

The Indian team management surely has a difficult decision to make, in choosing who they should leave out for Shami to come in. I think Ishant could well get the axe, particularly if the think tank opts to retain the batting line-up from the Ranchi Test.

I do not think India should sacrifice a batsman, given the kind of series Kohli the batsman is enduring and how inconsistent Ajinkya Rahane has been. Yes, Karun Nair has yet to make a significant contribution in the three innings so far (26, 0 and 23), but if I was part of the team management, I will stick with the Karnataka batsman to retain the stability of the side and because the conditions are likely to be bowler-friendly.

India’s predicted playing XI for the Dharamsala Test: Virat Kohli* (a doubt for the Test)* Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, and Umesh Yadav

Actual Indian playing XI for the fourth Test: Ajinkya Rahane*, Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Karun Nair, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar (Ishant Sharma), Umesh Yadav, and Kuldeep Yadav (288th Test player for India, replacing injured Virat Kohli)

Australian playing XI for the fourth Test: Steve Smith*, David Warner, Matthew Renshaw, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade, Pat Cummins, Steve O’Keefe, Nathan Lyon, and Josh Hazlewood

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