The Narendra Modi Stadium will sport a festive look when India and Australia square off on Thursday in the fourth and final Test. With the Indian PM Modi and his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese in attendance, the Test is being promoted as a setting to celebrate the friendship between the two countries over the last 75 years.
There are posters of the PMs in every corner of the ground; a gold-plated golf cart will give a tour of the ground to the PMs — creating the perfect aura that a high-profile Test match deserves.
As nearly 1,10,000 spectators are expected to be present on the opening day, it will be a challenge for the teams to cut out the noise and focus on the game. The defeat in the third Test in Indore has made this a must-win game for India in a bid to book a World Test Championship final berth.
In a respite to the batters, the surface promises to offer even bounce — a sharp contrast to the rank-turners that dominated the first three games of the series. Australia’s stand-in captain Steve Smith believes that of the surfaces that he has played so far in the series, the one here will potentially be the “flattest on day one”. And, that certainly would make it an even contest.
India’s batting would revolve around captain Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. With the ball turning from the word go, it was a challenge for the batters to step up, but now with a WTC final spot at stake, The home team would be hoping for its star-studded line-up to put on an improved show. So far in the series, the team losing the toss has gone on to win the matches, but the Indian captain does not want to believe that the toss is a factor. For him and the team, the mantra is to “bring your best skills, play the best cricket and win the game”.
After a century in the series opener, Rohit has failed to convert his starts, with scores of 32, 31, 12 and 12. Kohli has struggled in the series with just 111 runs, despite a promising start a couple of times. It has been more than three years since Kohli scored a century in Tests — against Bangladesh in Kolkata in 2019 — and about 15 Test innings since he scored a half-century. After scores of 7, 0, 31 and 1, Pujara fought back with a gritty 59 in the second innings of the Indore Test as his teammates failed to get going.
With K.S. Bharat likely to get a longer rope, India’s only change in the squad could be the return of Mohammed Shami in place of Umesh Yadav. So far in the series, Axar Patel has had a successful campaign with the bat, amassing 185 runs, but at his home ground, the all-rounder will have to chip in with his left-arm spin.
For the touring team, spinners — Nathan Lyon, Todd Murphy and Matthew Kuhnemann — have enjoyed success so far, and did not allow the Indian batters to settle down in the Indore Test. Smith defended the decision to play three spinners, despite some of its former cricketers slamming the side on air, but also indicated that a call on whether to continue with three tweaks is yet to be made. It needs to be seen whether Australia picks an extra pacer — Scott Boland or Lance Morris — to give the attack a better balance. The batting has lacked consistency, but in a key game, the side hopes to tick the right boxes and spoil India’s strong record at home.
Amid the celebrations and excitement, an intense clash awaits.
The teams (from):
India: Rohit Sharma (Capt.), K.L. Rahul, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, K.S. Bharat, Ishan Kishan, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Suryakumar Yadav and Jaydev Unadkat.
Australia: Steve Smith (Capt.), Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Peter Handscomb, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Mitchell Starc, Scott Boland, Nathan Lyon, Matt Kuhnemann, Todd Murphy, Mitchell Swepson, Lance Morris and Matthew Renshaw.
Umpires: Nitin Menon and Richard Kettleborough; TV umpire: Joel Wilson; Reserve umpire: J. Madanagopal; Match referee: Chris Broad.
Match starts at 9.30 a.m.