<b>Close-in:</b> Test of mettle
The fourth and the final match of the series between India and Australia in Dharamshala will be a perfect battle in a perfect setting
Cricket lovers in India and Australia would never have imagined that a perfect script would unfold at Dharamshala. The 4th Test between Australia and India has gained immense importance as a decider in the series. Both the sides have played some exemplary cricket and the excitement of a final clash to decide the winner is just the right ingredient to popularise the purest form of the game. The series has brought out individual skills, team work, brilliant batting and bowling performances. In boxing parlance, jabs, hooks, punches have all been exchanged by both the sides, but the final knock out punch is still to be delivered. India in the second Test were nearly on the verge of taking the final countdown, but they came back strongly to finally win the round. The 3rd Test however, was a battle of nerves and patience for the batsmen and individuals from both the sides. The teams had to play to their optimum potential to finally ensure an acceptable draw.
The verbal dual between the players, press and experts has also been quite amusing. We, as spectators are being serenaded with plenty of sound bytes, as well as, on field masterly performances.The Australian journalists as well as their CEO, known for their support of their team have joined the bandwagon with cynical rhetoric aimed at the Indian captain. This may have caused a stir in India, but it has given rise to the build up, as one can term it in the clash of the titans in the hills.
The atmosphere at Dharamshala will be excellent for swing bowling. The weather will be cooler than the sweating venues earlier. This should suit the visitors. The curator, one presumes, must have been requested to produce a rank turning wicket to suit Indian bowling. The dew and the earlier months of snowy weather would have left a fair bit of moisture underneath the surface and so a dry strip would be simply impossible. Batting and bowling in this condition would be completely different from the normal conditions in the plains. The pace bowlers will be far more effective for a change and the reverse swing will only come into play much later.
India has shown the depth in their batting, but the way, some of the batsmen have been getting out in the earlier matches is a cause of worry. The short ball has been the demise of some of our top order batsmen. Seeing the way, they were fending off the short balls on a slow wicket does not augur well for what they may face on a seam-friendly track. Apart from Kohli, none of the Indian batsmen are comfortable with the hook shot and so one expects a barrage of short pitch deliveries by the Australian speedsters. Jackson Bird, the 6ft 5 inches’ pacer may find a place in the Australian playing 11 while Mohammed Shami will most likely be included by India for some extra zing. The interesting aspect of the match will be a focus on the fast bowlers and the skills of the batsmen to face a moving ball.
The toss will play a significant part, as the winning captain may put his opponents into bat, if the conditions are cloudy. A fresh wicket with a heavy atmosphere is a pacer’s dream. Getting early wickets would be an advantage as it will become easier to bat on, once the wicket becomes drier and firmer on the 2nd and 3rd days’ play.
India needs to think of a new strategy to offset Australian captain, Steve Smith. His movement across before the delivery of the ball is upsetting the line and length of the Indian fast bowlers. The off-side bowling is proving to be a failure, where he is concerned. The Indian bowlers need to attack his powerful leg side by bowling round the wicket with a leg slip in place. This may get him to think differently as the line would be a negative approach. The bowler’s spikes too may cause a rough to be exploited by Ravichandran Ashwin in the second innings.
A major issue troubling the Indian team is the form of captain Virat Kohli. India needs him to fire on all cylinders as he scores runs quickly. But he is hemmed in by his injured shoulder, which led to his dismissal in the last match. Cheteshwar Pujara once again showed his class. His double century not only saved the day for India, but his partnership with Saha and some swashbuckling hits by Jadeja also had Australia on the mat. The visitors managed to salvage a draw through some determined batting by Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh.
Both the teams look positive and ready for their final encounter and its situations such as these that make Test cricket enthralling.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Indian cricketer)
Yajurvindra Singh