With the series level at 1-1, the third Test between India and Australia at Ranchi promises to be a gripping encounter.
Australia won the toss and, unsurprisingly, decided to bat first. The visitors have made two changes – with Glenn Maxwell and Pat Cummins coming in for the injured duo of Mitchell Marsh and Mitchell Starc.
On the other hand, India have stuck with their strategy of playing just four specialist bowlers. The one change they have made is the inclusion of the fit-again Murali Vijay for Abhinav Mukund.
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With the series level at 1-1, India and Australia move to Ranchi for the third Test in what is turning out to be an intense Test series.
There was some bad blood between the two sides in the second Test in Bengaluru and although both teams have said that they have moved on, don’t be surprised if tempers flare again.
Australia are still just one win away from retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and will want to put the disappointment of the Bengaluru Test behind them.
On the other hand, after suffering a rare loss at home in the first Test, India showed some tremendous character to win the second match despite conceding a lead in the first innings. Virat Kohli will be hoping for more of the same, come Ranchi.
DATE, TIME, VENUE INFO
Date: 16 March – 20 March 2017
Time: 09:30 local time (IST), 04:00 GMT, 08:00 GST
Venue: JSCA International Stadium Complex, Ranchi
WHERE TO WATCH, LIVE STREAMING INFO
TV: UAE – OSN Sports Cricket HD, India – Star Sports 1, HD 1 [English], Star Sports 3, HD 3 [Hindi]
Online streaming: hotstar.com, Hotstar app [in India only]
LIVE blog: Sport360 blog
TEAM NEWS, SQUAD, PREDICTED XI
INDIA SQUAD: Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Abhinav Mukund, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Jayant Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav.
The Indian squad is, more or less, the same as the one that was named for the first two Tests, with the only difference being the exclusion of all-rounder Hardik Pandya.
In Bengaluru, the hosts went in with just four specialist bowlers and that might change in Ranchi. With the pitch likely to favour the spinners, the Indian think-tank will be tempted to play Jayant Yadav or Kuldeep Yadav as the third spinner.
Opener Murali Vijay is likely to come back into the team in place of Abhinav Mukund.
PREDICTED INDIA XI: Vijay, Rahul, Pujara, Kohli (c), Rahane, Saha (wk), Ashwin, Jadeja, Jayant, Umesh, Ishant.
AUSTRALIA SQUAD: Steve Smith (c), David Warner, Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Stephen O’Keefe, Matthew Renshaw, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade (wk), Marcus Stoinis, Pat Cummins.
Australia were dealt with two injury blows as fast bowler Mitchell Starc and all-rounder Mitchell Marsh were ruled out of the series.
With Marsh out, it’ll be interesting to see what combination the visitors favour. Will they go for an all-round option in Glenn Maxwell or Marcus Stoinis, or will they go for a specialist batsman in Usman Khawaja?
In the pace department, either Jackson Bird or Pat Cummins will replace Starc.
PREDICTED AUSTRALIA XI: Warner, Renshaw, Smith (c), S Marsh, Handscomb, Maxwell, Wade (wk), O’Keefe, Lyon, Hazlewood, Bird.
(Last five Test matches – with latest match first)
INDIA: W L W W W
AUSTRALIA: L W W W W
India to win.
There is an eerie silence about the JSCA International Stadium Complex in Ranchi. Unlike other newly built stadiums in India, this isn’t too far away from the main city. Yet, it doesn’t feel like the venue is about to create history and host its first ever Test.
Perhaps it is to do with the absence of a certain MS Dhoni. The former Indian skipper enjoys a kingly status here, an understatement yes. His face is painted on walls, replete with World Cup trophies, and the very air feels superior when you breathe in, a quality imparted by his legendary status.
At a time of celebration for his home ground, Dhoni is away playing domestic limited-overs cricket for his state team Jharkhand. He will be sorely missed over the next five days.
That’s if the match lasts so long. There is an uncomfortable hush about the ground staff. The pitch curator doesn’t want to talk anymore, not after he outlined three pitches and was ‘misquoted’ by some Australian newspapers that Virat Kohli was free to make his choice.
So much so, there was clear discomfort in even allowing Australian captain Steve Smith a look at the wicket 24 hours before the Test. Only after some persistence on his part did the groundsmen relent.
Curator checking bounce of pitch. Ball barely lifting till knees, bit more if extra effort.— Chetan Narula (@chetannarula) March 15, 2017
*Now taking bets for a 3-day finish. #IndvAus
All of it sums up the prickly environment this Test will be played in. No, one isn’t talking about weather here, for there have been quite a few rain showers in Ranchi over the past 2-3 days.
Instead, it is about the acrimonious build-up to this match, where India and Australia have had a war of words. It fell just short of a full-blown legal hassle over Smith’s violation of DRS conduct in Bengaluru.
“It was a brain fade and I came out of the game and said that I made a mistake,” said Smith on the eve of the third Test. “I have spoken to the officials here and basically they have said that they want to see cricket as the real winner in this Test.”
His words mirrored Kohli’s opinion about this whole fracas.
“There is a lot of cricket still to be played. We have two Tests to go in this series. We should leave behind what happened in Bengaluru, and we should focus on Ranchi now. It is time to move on,” said the Indian skipper in his pre-match conference.
It is never as simple in an India-Australia encounter, however.
Remember 2001? As Indian cricket fans once again celebrate the miracle of Eden Gardens, let it be said here that this rivalry has never been the same since that epic Test.
Through the years, whether it was Sourav Ganguly wildly celebrating his hundred in Brisbane, or Monkeygate in 2008, or even when there was just simple cricket to talk about, this contest has always been played in a steaming cauldron.
DRS-gate is but an extension of the same, although it will be classified as a situation that could have spiralled out of control but never did.
Partly, it has to do with the ICC’s inaction. Strangely enough, they didn’t find it reasonable to sanction Smith after he was caught on live television. Or, even Kohli for that matter, never once asking him for proof of his allegations.
And partly, it has to do with BCCI and Cricket Australia realising that they are good old pals. Taking the legal warfare route just doesn’t help either side.
So, consequentially, after eight days of constant chatter from both sides, and a lot of colourful write-ups in the media (mostly Australian), we have arrived in Ranchi for the third Test. Is there any surprise about the eerie silence abounding this venue then? Perhaps it is the calm before the proverbial storm.
“I think about what I say. I don’t regret anything that I’ve said, but at the same time it’s very important not to be stupid and go on with the same things on a daily basis because there’s cricket to be played,” said Kohli, when obviously asked about his comments in the post-match conference at Bengaluru.
The Delhi batsman is quite headstrong in his beliefs, defiant even. It is sheer stupidity to expect a firebrand personality like Kohli to step down from his mark in a heated contest as this.
Sure, there is the possibility that he may be wrong about that ‘two other instances’ remark. He could be right too. The underlying point isn’t to imply wrongdoing on Australia’s part. Instead, it is in the lack of investigation on ICC’s part that has made seeking clarity on this matter an impossible task.
Of course, everyone related to Australian cricket has a Kohli-itch. All he needs to do is open his mouth (at times, not even that), and they are right onto him, shoving down what can only be termed as Steve Waugh’s ‘mental disintegration’.
It makes no difference that mere words from either side will not do any good or indeed harm. Yet, they must be spoken, spewed out even. This game of one-upmanship between Kohli and Australian cricket is never-ending.
“He’s entitled to his opinion, but from my point of view he’s completely wrong,” Smith shot back, in his pre-match conference, just about an hour later.
“I will be meeting up with Virat along with match referee Richie Richardson before the toss. I will be seeking clarifications. Maybe I will ask him a few questions.”
Never mind then that this series is pegged level at 1-1, and that either side could gather momentum here, especially on a pitch (with dark wet patches) whose behaviour is tough to anticipate. Both captains may have spoken about moving on, and playing in the right spirit. Yet, all the pre-match build-up only points to a disconcerting truce.
All it needs is one small spark in Ranchi, ironically in the land of ‘Captain Cool’ Dhoni.