The third Test of the 2013 Border-Gavaskar Trophy will see a battered, depleted and shocked Australia take on a buoyant, resurgent and confident India at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium, Mohali.
After suffering two humiliating losses at the hands of MS Dhoni’s men at Chennai and Hyderabad, a livid Michael Clarke had said that India can expect a hard fightback in the remaining two games. However, even he would not have envisaged the happenings over the last couple of days.
As many as four players, three of whom were certain to make the playing XI at Mohali, saw their names being erased from the list of probables. The reason, if coach Mickey Arthur is to be believed, is for not making a presentation.
Australia will, thus, be without their vice-captain, Shane Watson; their most experienced bowler, Mitchell Johnson; their most effective bowler, James Pattinson; and a promising young batsman, Usman Khawaja, at Mohali. Clarke may also have to do without first-choice wicket-keeper batsman Matthew Wade, who is down with a niggle. Brad Haddin has been called in as cover.
So, that leaves Arthur and Clarke with 12 players to choose from to make the playing 11 at Mohali. With the track at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium likely to assist the fast bowlers early on, Clarke would have liked the luxury of trying out three pacers, but, unfortunately, with Pattinson and Johnson unavailable, the choice has been made for him. Mitchell Starc would mark a return to the playing 11 after missing out in Hyderabad and the 23-year-old would want to perform and stick on a bit longer. All-rounder Steven Smith is also likely to earn a sixth Test cap.
As for India, who have been innocuously watching the whole drama unfold from the sidelines, they may have to deviate from their winning combination due to injury, form and conditions. Hyderabad double centurion Cheteshwar Pujara hurt his knee in training and could put his feet up and sit out at Mohali. This would, most likely, see Virat Kohli move up the order into Pujara’s No 3 slot and Mumbai’s Ajinkya Rahane get a debut at No 5.
Another player who would be making a much-awaited debut is the 27-year-old Delhi opener Shikhar Dhawan, who would fill up for the sacked Virender Sehwag. Dhawan has been waiting on the sidelines of the Test team for quite some time and would be looking to make the most of these two games. The rest of the line-up should stay put, unless Dhoni wants to be experimental and play three pacers and a lone specialist spinner in Ravichandran Ashwin, with Ravindra Jadeja filling up as the second tweaker. Mohali would be the right track to try out such a combination.
The series is all but a lost cause now for the visitors, who have pushed the self-destruct button after being 0-2 down. Securing a result with the available players would be a monumental, almost miraculous, effort by the now younger Clarke-led side. But the Australians would do well to give it their best and get valuable practice ahead of the ensuing Ashes double.