Australia has already wrapped up the series, but there’s still plenty to play for in the fourth Test at the SCG, which starts on Tuesday. The Boxing Day Test ended in a draw, Australia coming up four wickets short of a third straight victory over India. New captain Steve Smith – an unwavering golden boy in recent weeks – was panned post-match for his defensive declaration and early concession that a result could not be reached. The match was also soaked in sledging and general ill-feeling, which has gradually built throughout the series. Key personnel changes also make this an intriguing encounter, while it will undoubtedly be an emotional return to the ground where Phillip Hughes was fatally struck by a bouncer in November.
Mitchell Johnson has pulled out of the fourth Test due to a hamstring complaint. It’s a three-horse race between Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle and recalled spinner Ashton Agar to replace the pace spearhead, with Starc in front by a nose. Workhorse Ryan Harris – always a dicey proposition – is in slight doubt still, while Shane Watson left training early with a stomach bug but should be fine to play. Despite form concerns over Watson, Shaun Marsh, Brad Haddin and third Test debutant Joe Burns, there is unlikely to be any further changes.
Australia (probable): David Warner, Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, Steve Smith (c), Shaun Marsh, Joe Burns, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
MS Dhoni’s shock retirement has seen Virat Kohli take on the role (after filling in for the injured Dhoni in the first Test) on a permanent basis, while Wriddhiman Saha, a veteran of just two Tests, will return as India’s keeper-batsman. Further changes are unlikely for the weary tourists after most made at least some contribution in Melbourne, although Rohit Sharma could return for disappointing debutant Lokesh Rahul.
India (probable): Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Aninkya Rahane, Lokesh Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravi Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav.
Emotional Phillip Hughes tribute
While the raw emotion that was present in the first Test in Adelaide – played only 12 days after Phillip Hughes’ tragic death – will arguably never be matched on a cricket field again, there is certain to be a constant air of poignancy pervading the third Test as the teams return to the venue at which Hughes was fatally struck by a bouncer less than six weeks earlier.
Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, Nathan Lyon and David Warner were in the field for NSW on that fateful day in the Sheffield Shield clash with Hughes’ South Australia side, and that traumatic event is sure to affect the Test stars at the SCG.
A plaque commemorating Hughes outside the Australian dressing room will be unveiled, while Hughes’ family will be accompanied by injured captain Michael Clarke to the match.
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) January 4, 2015
Tensions continue to mount
The Phillip Hughes-inspired goodwill that permeated most of the first Test in Adelaide has all but disappeared. Brisbane was marked by constant sniping, sledging and confrontation, which only increased during the Boxing Day clash, with Virat Kohli the main protagonist on the Indian side, clashing with several of the Australians. The hosts, while painting the likes of Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan as the problem in dwindling relations between the teams, have done little to alleviate their image as sledge-happy bullies. Kohli’s new role as skipper creates an interesting subplot to the burgeoning animosity. Mitchell Johnson’s injury leaves a hole in Australia’s verbal arsenal almost as big as the one created in the bowling attack.
Third Test studs
- Ryan Harris took man-of-the-match honours with match-best figures of 6/130 and a sparkling 74 off 88 balls in Australia’s first innings.
- Steve Smith’s unbelievable batting form continued with a Test career-high 192 in Australia’s first dig.
- Chris Rogers took his run of consecutive half-centuries to four with scores of 57 and 69.
- After scoring 32 in the first innings, the enigmatic Shaun Marsh top-scored in the second innings with 99, sensationally run out by Kohli agonisingly short of his third Test ton.
- Virat Kohli rose to the occasion once again despite his run-ins with the Australia team, clubbing 169 in the first innings and a potentially match-saving 54 on day 5. He was also brilliant in the field. Feisty and combative, but all class.
- Enduring a misfiring series prior to Boxing Day, Ajinkya Rahane reached 147 in the first innings and made a key 48 on the last day.
- Although a bit loose and expensive, Mohammed Shami took a team-high six wickets for the match.
Third Test duds
- After a pressure-relieving 52 on Boxing Day, Shane Watson was out for 17 in the second innings – he’s so far behind the form needed from a No.3 it’s beyond a joke. Took a modest 1/79 off 22 overs with the ball.
- Warner’s ordinary finish to a halcyon year garnered a six-ball duck in the first innings and a quick-fire 40 in the second.
- Debutant Joe Burns made just 13 and 9 batting at No.6.
- Exciting newcomer Lokesh Rahul was out for scores of 3 and 1 playing wildly inappropriate shots – the former after being dropped the previous ball, and the latter after being promoted to No.3.
- Opener Shikhar Dhawan had an unhappy Test, out for 28 and 0, while Cheteshwar Pujara contributed just 25 and 21.
- The Indian lower order was yet again pathetic – MS Dhoni’s 24 not out in the second innings was the best score by a batsman coming in No.6 or after. They didn’t exactly have menacing bowling performances to fall back on, either.
Much like their imposing records at the Gabba and the MCG, Australia has been nigh on unstoppable at the Sydney Cricket Ground in a Test that is traditionally the first of the calendar year Down Under. England (2003 and 2011) are the only touring nation to win in Sydney in the last 20 Tests there, while only one match (India in 2004) has been drawn in that time, leaving Australia with 17 victories. Prior to 1996, Australia won just two of the previous 11 Tests at the SCG, losing two and drawing seven. India’s recent record at the venue is pretty ordinary, losing by an innings in 2000 and 2012; their last victory at the SCG was in 1978.