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Tour decider

The grit and character showed by the Indian team in the drawn Sydney Test were exemplary and it will be one of the top 5 achievements in the annals of Indian cricket history. 

I mentioned in the prediction article for the 3rd Test that If team India bats second, there is a strong probability that it will end in a draw. I had also stated that Smith and Pujara will get substantial, also advocated the inclusion of Jadeja and how handful he was.

The opening combination of Rohit Sharma who plays great on the backfoot and Shubman Gill, who is magnificent on the front foot created an enigma for the Australian bowlers. Their 70+ opening stands in both innings laid the foundation for a sizeable score. 

Pant’s innings of 97 in the fourth innings while chasing a huge total was commendable. I have always been of the view that Pant is a fantastic Test batsman and he should be kept in the line-up at all cost.

Hanuma Vihari has an average of 33.87 in Tests when he has only played overseas. Which other batsmen can better it over time and thus he should be protected at all costs rather than questioning as to why is he in the team?

India’s disciplined bowling and reserve talent owe its existence to IP and grueling domestic competitions and it was heartening to note that besides Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, no other batsmen especially tailenders were able to handle them. 

In the past tailenders such as Paul Reiffel, Mitchell Johnson, Jason Gillespie, Andy Bichel used to terrorize India in such a way that the initiatives used to be lost and India ended up on the losing side more often than not.

Last but not least this is India A team as players who are missing the series are:

Virat. Shami, Umesh Yadav, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Hardik Pandya, Ishant Sharma. In 2018, Smith and Warner were not available and Indian media was casting doubt on the historic win. Indian spirit is further applauded as Rishabh Pant, Hanuma Vihari, Jadeja, and Bumrah got injured during the match, and India yet managed to draw the match easily by playing 130 overs, second-highest ever in 4th innings.

The final battle at Gabba, Brisbane

Gabba is the backyard of Australian cricket. Australia has a great record here and have not lost at the venue since 1988 Australia. The following table displays the Australian and Indian records at the venue.

Gabba India
4th innings record at the Gabba  

The lone draw was achieved by the counterattacking style of Saurav Ganguly when he scored 144 of 196 balls in 2003. So the motivation level of Australians must be very high on two counts: given their record at the Gabba and slew of injuries to the Indian players.

Scores of the previous 4 tests at Gabba between the sides

Test Gabba India
Scores of the previous 4 tests at Gabba between the sides

From this, we can observe that good scores can be put on the board and it all comes down to application and resolves.

Leading performers at Gabba

Micheal Clarke and Greg Chappel have scored 5 centuries each. Which states that players who can play late, cut the ball well, and have wristy play can do well at the venue. The table below gives leading performers between India and Australia.

Gabba India
Leading performers at Gabba

Pitch and Strategy

This simply states that brisk strokeplay is the key to score runs. The players who like to drive the ball have a high chance to get caught in the slip corridor. 

Further absence of spinners in the bowling column shows that it will be a seaming wicket. Hazelwood made his debut here and took 8 wickets so kicking deliveries can cause problems. Also, the ample bounce can help the two off-spinners on both sides.

Pitch will have medium but even bounce. The ball is expected to swing for the first hour each day. As the saliva rule is applied so the reverse swing is out of the equation. Spinners will get assistance only on the 4th day and 5th day.

Expansive drives have to be cut down and it may create problems for Indian batters like Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit, and Gill.

If India wins the toss they should opt to bat as Australia will not be able to handle the pressure of the last day's target and crumble and on the other hand, India may be skittled out early as the ball will move. However, this risk needs to be taken.

On a defensive note, India should ask Australia to bat first, then score heavily in their first inning and then go for a draw and retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

Team Selection

The Indian Team is in a catch 22 situation to retain Pant as Keeper and play Mayank as a batsman or Play Pant as a batsman and keep Saha as wicketkeeper. I will go for Pant as a keeper as batting is strengthened if Mayank comes at no. 5. 

At Gabba, pacers have more role to play and Pant drops catches of spinners so this risk needs to be taken. I am advocating 4 pacers, Shardul, Thakur Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini, and T. Natarajan. Shardul and Natarajan must pitch the ball up and move it in the air and off the pitch to gain maximum help and create the most effective impact.

R. Ashwin has found his batting rhythm and he can perform the duties of no 6 or 7.

Australia is also having problems in the opening slot. Will Pucovski is injured and will be replaced by Marcus Harris. The rest of the team is expected to remain the same.

Verdict

It will be a see-saw battle. Each session will be hugely important. I gave the correct outcome in all three Tests. Loss in Adelaide, a remarkable win in Melbourne, and a fighting draw at Sydney. However, as the team position of India is not clear, I am slightly confused about the outcome.

It will be a competitive and emotionally draining viewing. So watch the match with all your heart and vigor. If World No. 1 Test batsman Steve Smith scores big, India will be at the receiving end of a hammering and if Rohit Sharma performs according to his ability, India will retain the prestigious Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

So enjoy the ecstasy of these next 5 days