A lot at stake

The Plot:

Having to play catch-up after their loss to Australia in the first Test, India were left with a daunting task in the second Test. The chips were down after the first innings, but they outplayed the Aussies in the third and the fourth innings of the match. The events of the match were reminiscent of the 2001 Kolkata Test, although there was no follow-on in the one in Bengaluru last week. The bowlers made merry while the pitch crumbled by the session in the first two Tests. The two teams are not likely to expect anything else from the surface for the third Test.

While the second Test was marred by controversy, the players will look to shift their focus back to cricket In Ranchi. This will be of utmost importance when both sides take the field to continue what has been a see-sawing Test series so far. India will look to build on the momentum they gained in Bengaluru. India should be bolstered by Murali Vijay’s return, after a shoulder injury kept him out of the last Test. On the other hand, Australia have been hit by a couple of injuries. Two Mitchells – Starc and Marsh, have had to return home. Of the two, losing Starc is a major setback for the visitors, who have called in Pat Cummins; a pace for pace replacement. Cummins hasn’t played a Test after his debut in 2011, having been injury-prone for most of his career. He will have to acclimatise to the conditions pretty early before the crunch game.

The series is locked at 1-1, and a win in Ranchi will give the victor an unassailable lead in the series. Both teams have some concerns with their batting. India still looked uncertain against spin, which was exploited duly by Nathan Lyon in the first innings at Bengaluru. Steve O’Keefe, who cut the ground from under India’s feet in the first Test, wasn’t as effective in the second. However, he still remains a threat with his accuracy. There will be plenty of expectations of the pacers on both sides, after their exploits in Bengaluru, but Ashwin & Jadeja continue to be major worries for Australia. It may come down to who bats better, yet again.

The Stage:

JSCA International Cricket Stadium Complex:

Years after the first cricketer from Jharkhand made his Test debut for India, a stadium in the state’s capital, Ranchi is all set to host its first Test match. The venue has hosted a few limited overs internationals in the past and has been known to have a slow surface. It won’t be a surprise if something similar is served for this Test too, given that it will fit right into the pattern. The pitch is almost certainly a bat-first for the team that wins the toss on Thursday morning.

Acts:

India’s Reviews vs Australia’s Reviews:

It is not easy to think quickly on one’s feet under pressure. Virat Kohli has been under fire for taking some interesting reviews, but it’s the bowler and the fielders around him who need to keep a cool head, let the moment sink in and then help Kohli decide. Steven Smith and his men have been pretty good at it. The only thing he got wrong is who, or rather, where he turned for the advice. A lot of eyeballs will be on the Decision Review System (DRS) during this Test.

Ishant Sharma vs Steven Smith:

Ishant Sharma may have made headlines for his over-expressiveness in Bengaluru, but what went unnoticed was his bowling. He hit the good areas consistently and caused considerable difficulty for the Aussie skipper, Steven Smith. The battle is bound to spill over into this Test as well and watch out for the actions and gestures once again.

Ashwin vs Warner:

After initially contemplating on bringing out the switch hit, but not going ahead with it, David Warner clearly needs to find a way to tackle his nemesis, Ravichandran Ashwin. The southpaw is walking into ‘bunny territory’ against the offie. More than the personal battle, he will hope to get Australia to a solid start, something he has earned a reputation for over the years.

Artists:

There should be changes in both sides, albeit for contrasting reasons. Let’s take a look at the possible playing XIs of both sides.

Steven Smith will be forced to make two changes, with Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Marsh out due to injuries. Pat Cummins should replace Starc, but Smith will have to ponder over going in with a specialist batsman or an all-rounder in Maxwell or Stoinis.

Australia – David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Steven Smith (c), Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell/Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade (wk), Steve O’Keefe, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon.

Virat Kohli played the extra batsman in Bengaluru and may just stick to the 7-4 combination once again. Murali Vijay should slot in to replace Mukund at the top, while the rest of the team may remain intact.

India – KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma


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