We are going to get a decider! Unbelievably, the series is locked at one game each, with three different results setting up a one-Test shootout for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy between India and Australia in beautiful Dharamsala.
It’s been a gripping, roller-coaster series with Australia surprising most pundits to be in the series, let alone going into the final Test with a chance to take home the trophy.
The position they found themselves in during the third Test on the final day, needing to bat it out with eight wickets in hand, looked to be close to impossible, but Matt Renshaw, Steve Smith, Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb came to the party to help save the Test and keep the series locked up.
Despite the criticism of the Ranchi pitch leading into the match, it proved to be the only wicket during the series that hasn’t produced a match not reaching the final day.
It was the first time an Australian team have battled their way to a draw, batting out all of the final day since the third Ashes Test against England in 2005. On that occasion, Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath saw out the final four overs, the tourists finishing on 9 for 371.
Since then, it’s been all gloom and doom for Australia whenever they have had their backs to the wall, but Ranchi saw a changing of the guard.
What made it even more impressive was that it came after a 210 over stint in the field. In the heat, the tourists were batted out of the game by a double century from Cheteswhar Pujara as he spent 525 balls at the crease.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for India. Chasing a strong Australian first innings score of 451, who were led by an impressive 178 not out from Steve Smith and controlled 104 from Glenn Maxwell – his first Test century.
The hosts then found themselves at 6 for 328 with things not looking promising for a big first innings lead, despite Cheteswhar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha at the crease.
The middle order crumbled after a strong start to the innings from Lokesh Rahul and Murali Vijay, but what followed was a display of concentration, tight bowling and India simply doing what they do best.
The pair would put on a partnership of 199 across 78 overs, with Pujara ending on 202 and Saha 117. Despite that, the game never got away from Australia and their tight bowling forced Virat Kohli – who only scored six himself – to bat on until there were only eight overs remaining on the fourth day.
That would end up saving the Aussies, who despite being two wickets down at stumps only had to bat 100 overs to save the Test, instead of something closer to 150.
Despite a couple of important wickets falling at the back end of the first session, Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb would bat for 62.1 overs, adding 124 to effectively end the hosts charge at victory.
With Australia taking victory in the last series between the sides, they now only need a draw in Dharamsala to claim the trophy.
That almost ensures India will wheel out a pitch to get a result and will once again place a lot of emphasis on the toss, with the side batting first taking an undeniable advantage.
This has more than just a deciding Test feel to it though. The two captains have gone back and forth at each other all series, and the tension is ready to explode in Dharamsala. Everything from Virat Kohli’s lack of runs to Steve Smith’s brain fade in Bangalore when using the DRS has this match primed to be everything a decider should be.
Steve Smith said it before the series, talking about winning as the priority, but being happy to settle for a draw if that becomes impossible.
I’ve never been a fan of a negative mindset and playing for a draw, and it’s highly doubtable Steve Smith would say anything along those lines, however declarations would be something thrown out the window for this match.
The last thing Australia want to do is invite India back into the match. In saying that, if Australia simply come out and try to bat for time, they will lose.
Play the match first and foremost, but have no hesitation to ensure India are right out of it – and I mean make it impossible, before offering them a chance to do anything about it.
While his teammates have bailed him out to keep the series at one-all, the bottom line is that India were never going to be the dominant force they have been all summer if Kohli didn’t score runs.
With Kohli peeling off constant centuries against New Zealand, England and Bangladesh they had no problems and haven’t dropped a Test against any of those sides. Against Australia though, the sledging and mind games have gotten to Kohli, who has only scored 46 runs for the entire series.
That’s a long way from good enough or meeting the standards of Kohli and the pressure is on him to deliver victory.
You have to think the mind games are a big part of why he hasn’t scored runs though. His interviews have seemed disjointed, his on-field play not doing the talking and he has taken every opportunity to talk.
Even in the field he has hurt his team. During the final session in Ranchi, he was constantly talking to the batsmen and in a situation where every ball counted, he easily cost his side a couple of overs.
It wasn’t as if the Aussies bowled badly, but Pujara and Saha just batted and batted.
The worst bit about all this for the Aussies is the short turnaround. They only have five days to recover for the fifth Test, and when you consider Steve O’Keefe bowled 77 overs, and everyone else more than 40 you get the idea of how drained they are.
Despite the climate being cooler in Dharamsala, it’s not going to change the fact another 150 over stint in the field will break Australia.
If India realise this, they will simply try to grind Australia out of the match, all the while remembering they need a result.
After Vijay and Rahul got such a strong start, they lost 5 for 135, which isn’t terrible, but on the wicket presented it had to be better. It left Saha and Pujara under pressure and the run rate crawling at a snails pace.
Because of that, India had to bat right through the fourth day and limit the amount of time they had to knock Australia over.
Unfortunately, consistency of runs has marred their home summer and it’s something they need to address if they are to ensure series victory.
While it was difficult to get a sense of what each captain was doing across the first two Tests with the matches decided on spin bowling, the toss and application at the crease, both finishing early the third Test showed us neither captain is willing to experiment too much.
Glenn Maxwell bowled four overs out of 210, leaving the four frontliners to get through 206, while India stuck to their four main weapons despite not taking an over for over 60 overs.
Even a couple of overs from a part-timer here or there could have made all the difference, and whichever captain can adapt and do a few things differently in this match will take the advantage.
Hours of play are subject to change based on over rates, weather and match situation.
I’ve been wrong three times out of three, but that’s because I’ve spent my time grossly underestimating the Australian side.
As they did in Ranchi, the Aussies will fight hard but it’s difficult to see them winning despite everything in the second Test. The reliance on Steve Smith scoring runs just seems too heavy.
India virtually don’t have a choice but to put a result pitch out and with a short turnaround, Australia will just come up short.
The Roar will have a live blog of each and every day played by the Australian national team, as well as highlights throughout the match.
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