Sydney Cricket Ground
January 3 to 7; 05:00 IST
Live on SPN, streaming on SonyLiv
The main picture
India’s 137-run victory in Melbourne was very much a case of this team living up to their potential, that had not been realised on the tours of South Africa and England. We knew about the potency of the bowling attack, but the batting line-up kept letting the team down and they probably hadn’t lived up to their own potential, too. Virat Kohli was the protagonist in South Africa and England and the lack of runs made the bowling look ordinary. The trio of Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami has been a constant during this overseas tours cycle, yet they hadn’t always delivered the kind of results as at Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Before India toured Australia, we knew that the Tim Paine-led team was beatable, we expected Virat Kohli to star with the bat, as well, and we were excited about watching Ishant, Bumrah and Shami bowling on the Australian pitches. But, we didn’t quite expect the way the Indian bowlers blew Australia away in Melbourne, in particular, and we probably didn’t expect Cheteshwar Pujara to make two match-winning hundreds in a country where he hadn’t blossomed in 2014-15 and had been ordinary with the bat in South Africa and England, as well. The other unforeseen circumstance was Mayank Agarwal going on to play a crucial role in the big win on his international debut having not been part of the initially-named squad.
In the context of this series, India and Australia are under different kinds of pressure. India will go for the kill, but being 2-1 up in a Test series in Australia is uncharted territory for the visitor. We might not see a direct consequence of this in Sydney, but if Australia somehow get a headstart and put themselves on top, we will see the real character of the Indian team. And if Australia are on top, the 2-1 series scoreline is likely to play in the minds of the India players.
From Australia’s perspective, being 1-2 down, they obviously need to be aggressive and grab situations by the scruff of the neck. The bowling attack will need to keep looking for wickets even when India are on top. And the batting line-up, which has not been able to forge many substantial partnerships this series apart from the 100-plus stand for the first wicket in the first innings of the second Test, probably needs to bat at a higher tempo than it has throughout this series.
The series is set for an exciting finale, with spectators and followers of the sport likely to be kept on the edge of their seats given the contrasting situations the two teams find themselves in.
Sydney Cricket Ground pitch report and weather forecast
The SCG pitch has a bit of grass leading up to the Test, but like at MCG, whether the grass has been left only to hold the surface together or if it actually provides pace, carry and movement off the pitch remains to be seen.
The forecast says that the first four days of the Test will be sunny, with rain predicted on the fifth afternoon.
India vs Australia 4th Test playing 11
Australia have added Marnus Labuschagne, a batsman who can bowl leg-spin and offers the kind of package Hanuma Vihari has for India, to their squad for the final Test. He was added to the squad immediately after Australia’s defeat in Melbourne, in anticipation of possibly a drier surface in Sydney. Labuschagne, who made his debut in the Test series against Pakistan in the UAE, could come in for Mitchell Marsh, who aggregated 19 runs on his return to the XI. With Aaron Finch struggling against the new ball, suggestions have been that he could bat in the middle order, with Usman Khawaja potentially partnering Marcus Harris at the top of the order.
Possible Australia playing 11: 1 Tim Paine (c & wk), 2 Aaron Finch, 3 Marcus Harris, 4 Usman Khawaja, 5 Shaun Marsh, 6 Travis Head, 7 Marnus Labuschagne, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Josh Hazlewood, 11 Nathan Lyon
Despite the emphatic win in Melbourne, India will not start the fourth Test with the winning combination, courtesy Rohit Sharma’s paternity leave. R Ashwin has been included in the XIII for the final Test, with Ishant Sharma not part of it. Kuldeep Yadav and Umesh Yadav are part of the XIII and either of them could feature in the fourth Test.
Possbile India playing XI: 1 Virat Kohli (c) 2 Mayank Agarwal, one of 3 KL Rahul, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Hanuma Vihari, 7 Rishabh Pant (wk), 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Umesh Yadav/Kuldeep Yadav/R Ashwin
The bowling has been very good throughout this series, though India have edged out Australia in this department over the three Tests so far. Australia’s real problems have been the lack of confidence among their batting group and the inability to stitch together substantial partnerships. Their highest partnership in the third Test was 51 runs for the fourth wicket between Shaun Marsh and Travis Head in the second innings. And only if Australia’s batting comes good, they will challenge India in the fourth Test to potentially avoid a first Test series loss on home soil since a 1-0 reverse against South Africa in 2012.