MS Dhoni retired from test cricket a week ago. The dust has settled down, the tributes have been written and the future has been evaluated. His is a dignified exit, and an unselfish one—the kind of exits Indian cricket should stick to.
Not much will change, because the spotlight will remain on Virat Kohli, as it has been this series. Sydney will be his first test match where he isn’t the replacement captain. The post is now his. It didn’t affect his batting in Adelaide, and though he failed in Brisbane, Sydney’s flat pitch is right down his street. He now has one of the most inexperienced Indian test teams under him. This is scary, but this is also very exciting.
2-0 down in the test series, the Border-Gavaskar trophy out of their hands again, but somehow, everyone has been impressed by this team. They’re young, brash, fearless and still don’t know how to win the big moments. Nobody doubts the talent, except for in the bowling department without Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. He has become even more popular after being on the sidelines due to injury, but he could just make his long-needed comeback in a series sorely lacking his guile and calm batsmanship. The team could change a bit, now that Kohli is in charge, with the vacancy of a wicketkeeping spot. The likes of Saha, Samson and Naman Ojha must have mentally noted the day Dhoni retired, because this is the beginning of either one of their long-term careers. This is their opportunity. Saha is the immediate choice for now. Pujara’s form in 2014 was worrisome, considering he was the batsman expected to succeed in all conditions abroad. He failed miserably, averaging in the 20s, and leaving it to Vijay to play his role. The rock is not so solid anymore, especially against off-spinners and short balls. Equally worrying is Dhawan’s continued lean patch, and much like England, he could be dropped for this final test to try a new batting order. Hopefully, KL Rahul will be allowed to bat as an opener, a spot he has grown up in domestic cricket. Spinner Akshar Patel could be given a look-in, and along with Ashwin, he could perhaps hide the inadequacy of the pacers. Aaron looks set to be back in place of the inconsistent Yadav, but one sincerely hopes Shami isn’t a flash in the pan. The new look of this team is in stark contrast to the team that lost 4-0 in 2012, virtually unrecognizable now. Only Kohli, Ashwin and Ishant are the survivors.
Expected XI: Vijay, KL Rahul, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Raina, Saha, Ashwin, Akshar, Aaron, Ishant.
Not many changes are expected, but many will keep in mind Smith’s reluctant tactics at Melbourne. Kohli’s Adelaide daredevilry definitely affected the Aussie mindset, because of which they tried to first bat India out of the game on the final day at the MCG, before not having enough time to bowl them out. The scoreline could very easily have been 1-1. Johnson hasn’t shown his best form, but he has done enough to win them a test on his own. Harris is their best bowler and has been fit for a change, and Lyon has done exceedingly well as the lone spinner. If Harris isn’t fit, Starc could replace him at Sydney. However, the inclusion of Ashton Agar as the extra spinner (all-rounder) could mean that even Australia are considering dropping a pacer. With Johnson injured, this could mean that Harris and Hazlewood will be the fast bowlers, with Agar and Lyon operating as spinners, and Watson as the foil. Joe Burns will be given another chance too. Most importantly, the Aussies will be returning to the ground where Phil Hughes was tragically felled by a bouncer a month ago. This will be difficult, especially for Warner, Haddin, Lyon and Watson, who were on the ground when it happened.
Expected XI: Warner, Rogers, Watson, Smith, Marsh, Burns, Haddin, Agar, Lyon, Harris, Hazlewood.