The burning question going into the final Test of the four match series that is tied at one win each was whether India’s captain and key batsman Virat Kohli would be taking to the field for the toss on the opening day.
Kohli injured his shoulder while diving to save a boundary during Australia’s first innings in the previous Test in Ranchi. When he took to the field on the final day he was clearly restricted in his movements and was only able to throw the ball underarm.
His comments in the press conference leading into the game indicated that it was looking unlikely that he would be able to play, “If I’m one hundred percent fit for the game (that) is the only condition that I will take the field. At this stage the injury has an element of being aggravated in the field. While batting there’s no problem whatsoever of it getting aggravated. So it’s a bit different from when you’re one hundred percent fit.”
In his absence, Ajinkya Rahane would captain the Indian side. Steve Smith smirked as he compared the stand-in captain’s methods to those of Kohli, “He’s probably a bit more chilled out, out on the field, probably not quite as emotional. I think he reads the game and understands the game really well.”
India has called up Mumbai batsman Shreyas Iyer as cover for their captain. In Australia’s only warm-up match in India before the series began Iyer scored 202 not out off just 210 deliveries for India A but Smith played down that effort, “He was pretty aggressive. It was a pretty good wicket in Mumbai. There wasn’t much spin, there wasn’t a great deal of pace in the wicket and I don’t think that we played any of our front line quicks. He played really well in that game but that was only one game of cricket but he certainly looks like a good player for the future.”
What a series it has been so far that has led to this conclusion. The first Test brought an unlikely trouncing of the hosts on a spinner’s paradise in Pune. The second, in Bangalore, saw India fight back after trailing in the first innings to level things up. Australia then ground out a draw on the final day in Ranchi after both teams posted big first innings scores but India had gained the upper hand.
A proud Steve Smith believes that his team now has the momentum after their gutsy effort while losing only four wickets as it saw off India’s attack on that fifth day, “I said after the last game that we could take a bit away from last week. I thought the way we fought out that draw was magnificent. I’m sure they’d be disappointed that they couldn’t get the result they were after. In that regard I’d rather be in our boat than theirs.”
Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb had both been short of runs on the tour to that point but they shared in a 62 over stand to steer their side through the day. It now means that, with one exception, all of Australia’s top six have been able to make a good score in at least one innings in the series. Somewhat surprisingly it is David Warner who had been playing below par with a top score of 38. Smith, himself, is the stand out. He has notched up two centuries and is averaging 74.20 with the impressive Matt Renshaw the second highest run getter.
The Dharamsala pitch isn’t like most in India. It is known to favour pace bowlers far more than others so much so that in two of the three Ranji Trophy matches played on the ground during the recent season the side winning the toss opted to bowl.
When the covers were removed for Smith to take a look at the pitch the day before the Test they showed a surface with plenty of grass but with a bare patch about a third of the way down from the River End and some wear at the opposite College End outside a left hander’s off stump. Having taken a look, Smith gave his thoughts, “Although there is some grass out there it still looks pretty dry underneath. I think it will take a reasonable amount of spin as the game goes on.”
There has never been a series of more than three matches between the two countries in India that has been all square going into the last Test. Three different venues, three completely different wickets and three different results have brought the series to a climax that will be fought out in what must surely be the most picturesque cricket ground in the world that is holding it’s inaugural Test.
None of this was lost on Smith, “The stage is really set now for a fantastic fourth Test match and the guys are really excited about that. It’s a really exciting time for this team to be involved in this game. It’s a beautiful setting here in Dharamsala - the fourth Test match of a series at one-all against India it’s a great occasion to be involved in.”
When Australia takes to the field they will face the breathtaking backdrop of the Himalayas behind the College End. They, themselves, will know that they require one final push to conquer what appeared to be an unreachable summit when they headed to India - a series win.