Saturday March 25 2017, 3:00pm AEDT
After a tense draw in Ranchi left the series locked at 1-1, the Border-Gavaskar trophy will be decided by the fourth test in Dharmasala, beginning on Saturday.
India’s hopes of seventh-straight home series win remain in the balance after they failed to force a result in the third test, despite finishing the match as the only side with a realistic chance of victory. However to get to that position they had to overcome losing the toss and bowling first, with Australia moving to 1/80, then 4/331 on a pitch which defied all expectations to offer very little for the bowlers.
It was only another outstanding effort from Ravindra Jadeja (5/124) which kept the Aussies down to a first innings score of 451, while paceman Umesh Yadav also chipped in with 3/106. India then set about compiling their own formidable total, with openers Lokesh Rahul (67) and Murali Vijay (82) enjoying an opening stand of 91. After some stuttering from the middle-order, first drop Cheteshwar Pujara and ‘keeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha took the game away from Australia with a partnership of 199 with Pujara amassing a brilliant 202, while Saha struck an impressive 117. A quick-fire half-century from Jadeja (54 not out) allowed India to declare at 9/603 late on day four and when they captured two wickets before the close they were favourites to take the match out on day five.
However some stubborn batting from the visitors and a pitch that failed to deteriorate appreciably left the hosts frustrated with the Indians finishing four wickets short of victory despite another sustained spell from Jadeja (4/54). No changes are expected to India’s side for the decider, despite captain Virat Kohli struggling with a shoulder complaint.
While they may not have won the match, Australia ticked off another achievement in an already-impressive tour, batting out a full day five for a draw in Asia for the first time since 1980. They began the third test on the front foot, thanks largely to another sublime innings from captain Steve Smith who finished unbeaten on 178, his sixth century in nine tests against India. Smith received unlikely support from the recalled Glenn Maxwell who played within himself to assemble a breakthrough innings of 104, helping to put on 191 with the skipper after coming in with the Aussies precariously placed at 4/140.
In the field it was another new addition to the side who shone the brightest with promising quick Pat Cummins, playing his first test in over five years, overcoming the benign surface to claim 4/106 including the key wickets of Kohli and Rahul. Curiously Maxwell, despite being ostensibly picked as an all-rounder, bowled only four of Australia’s 210 overs with left-arm orthodox Steve O’Keefe getting through a marathon 77 overs.
When captain Smith departed before lunch on day five to leave Australia teetering at 4/63, it looked as if they would repeat their fourth innings collapse in Bangalore, however a wonderfully resolute partnership of 124 in 62.1 overs between Peter Handscomb (72 not out) and Shaun Marsh (53) ensured that the visitors would go to Dharmasala on level-pegging. Australia are expected to name an unchanged side with all members of their starting XI contributing at different points throughout the tour with the notable exception of vice-captain David Warner who has averaged a disappointing 21.83.
Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium
The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium in Dharmasala is yet another ground hosting its first test, although it’s worth noting that the side batting first has been bowled out for under 230 in two of the three ODIs played here. This was replicated in the Ranji Trophy where 300 was not passed at all in two of three first-class fixtures at the ground so the batsmen may find the going a bit tougher here.
- India have won 10 of their past 11 test series’ at home, including their last six straight.
- Not since 2012 have India failed to win consecutive tests at home.
- India have not drawn consecutive tests at home since 2010.
- Australia have not won consecutive tests in Asia since 2006.
- Australia have not drawn consecutive tests in Asia since 2011.
- A bowler has taken a five-wicket haul in seven of 11 innings in this series.
With their strong record at home, India have again been installed as favourites to take out the series decider, with an Australian victory and draw considered more distant but almost identical chances.
After being stunned in Pune, India have fought back to play tough, if not outstanding, cricket against an Australian side which has refused to roll over. When they lost the series opener there was a suggestion that they were over-reliant on their captain, but while Kohli has continued his lean run, the likes of Rahul, Pujara and now Saha have all stepped up to fill the breach left by their prolific skipper. Similarly with the ball, the all-conquering Ravi Ashwin has been notably subdued but this has allowed his fellow spinner Jadeja to emerge from the shadows with a series-high 21 scalps, while fast-bowlers Yadav and Ishant Sharma have performed admirably on pitches more suited to the slower bowlers. At the end of a long summer this is not the best time to be siding with India, however I am loathe to oppose them given their long history of success on home soil.
Australia have defied all expectations to keep the series alive right up until the fourth test, with many anticipating Dharmasala to be no more than a dead-rubber. Much like their hosts, they have overcome the poor form of one of their key batsmen with Warner’s failings concealed by the exceptional run-scoring of Smith along with valuable contributions from Matt Renshaw, Shaun Marsh and Handscomb. Although their influence was neutralised in Ranchi, Australian spinners Lyon and O’Keefe have proved the doubters wrong by providing match-changing spells, while Cummins showed that he was a more than an able replacement for the injured Mitchell Starc. Given the way they have performed throughout the series I wouldn’t be rushing to take on the Aussies here, especially considering that they have traded significantly shorter than starting price in all three tests thus far.
Draws involving these sides have generally been a rare as hen’s teeth but having seen one in the last test, could this match possibly produce another stalemate? While the condition of the pitch is again a mystery, the major factor against the draw here is that India need to win to regain the trophy, so one can assume that the surface prepared here will provide significantly more assistance to the bowlers. Moreover consecutive draws are almost unheard of when it comes to both sides, plus it must be remembered that it took a partnership of unprecedented application to prevent a result in Ranchi.
After being stung by the draw in the last test, we are prepared to take a deep breath and go in again on a draw lay. Despite some outstanding batting throughout the series there are only four batsmen averaging above 40, while at the same time there are seven bowlers averaging less than 30. Furthermore we expect to see a pitch much more like Pune and Bangalore than Ranchi with India knowing that a draw will see Australia retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy. Lastly with India having just three draws in their last 22 tests, and Australia three in their last 27, we believe the price is clearly too short here so will have no hesitation in opposing the draw and cheering on a result for either team.
Additionally if you’re looking for a side interest it’s worth noting that a bowler has taken a five-wicket haul in seven of 11 innings this series, while there have also been five separate four-wicket hauls. Theoretically there is no reason why this trend would change in the decider so look to back any bowler to take five wickets in an innings.
LAY – The Draw at 4.50 or better for 2 units.
BACK – Bowler to take 5 Wickets in an Inns? Yes at 1.65 or bigger for 1 unit.