India’s rearguard heroics to save the Sydney Test has come at a mighty cost for a visiting side which was already grappling with a multitude of injuries and key absentees.
Ajinkya Rahane’s men defied expectations to thwart Australia’s ambitions yet again, and ensured that the series remains on an even footing, at 1-1, ahead of the final battle at the Gabba. However, there are more injury woes to contend for the walking wounded as they head to a venue where the Aussies have not been beaten for more than three decades.
Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Hanuma Vihar and potentially even Ravichandran Ashwin are the latest names to join the injury boat which threatens to derail India’s bid to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
With Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav having been ruled out of the series previously, India will be forced to field a completely revamped bowling attack bereft of any experience in Brisbane.
Mohammed Siraj – Two Tests
Such are the strange circumstances on hand that Siraj is likely to find himself as the leader of the bowling attack in Brisbane, despite having arrived in Australia as an uncapped player. Having replaced the injured Shami in the second and third Tests, the seamer has managed to give a good account of himself with the red ball in hand.
His five-wicket match haul in Melbourne was pivotal to India’s series comeback, although he did find the going tougher in his subsequent Sydney overtures. Siraj’s first-class record so far has been encouraging and a bowling average of less than 24 was key to him being rewarded with an India debut.
His lines and lengths have generally been on point, and his wobbly seam position has a knack of picking up wickets. Having been on the receiving end of alleged racial abuse in Sydney, the Hyderabad-born pacer could be fired up to silence the Australian fans in Brisbane.
Navdeep Saini – One Test
The Delhi pacer would not have been expecting a Test debut in Australia, but injuries mean he is now assured of back-to-back appearances for India.
Saini did claim four wickets across the two innings on his maiden Test appearance, though he did leak plenty of runs with some wayward bowling.
An economy-rate of more than four runs an over in Sydney encapsulated Saini’s struggles to maintain consistency in his attack at the batsmen. He averages nearly 29 in first-class cricket, which is not a flattering look for a bowler who now finds himself catapulted to the highest level of the game.
If India are to make a fight of it in Brisbane, Saini will need to get his radar right on a pitch which has historically aided fast bowlers. At the moment, he looks like the weakest link of the possible Indian bowling attack.
T Natarajan – Potential Debut
It is unlikely that Natarajan would have envisaged this scenario even in his wildest dreams, and his fairytale story looks set to get even better in the coming days. The unheralded pacer from Tamil Nadu shot himself to instant game with his 2020 IPL displays and was picked for the Australia touring party to simply train alongside the primary squad.
The stars have perfectly aligned for the left-arm pacer Down Under and he could now find himself capped across all three formats in the coming days.
He impressed greatly in the preceding limited-overs clashes against Australia after being called out of the blue due to various injuries. Eight wickets across the handful of T20I and ODI appearances were tremendous returns for a bowler who had largely been unheard of before 2020.
He is clearly a man in form and brimming with confidence, but it is important to note that Test cricket is a different beast altogether. His ability to bowl accurate yorkers might not be the greatest asset to have with the red ball, although his left-arm option does provide a different kind of threat.
The 29-year-old also doesn’t’ have a wealth of first-class experience and it could be a big ask for him to maintain intensity across five days.
Shardul Thakur – One Test
If India are hesitant to take a chance on Natarajan, then it is Shardul Thakur who could likely fill Bumrah’s boots at the Gabba. Thakur’s only previous Test appearance against the West Indies in 2018 lasted just 10 deliveries, with a hamstring injury ruling the pacer out of the remainder of the clash.
While he might be lacking in red ball experience for India, Thakur does bring with him the experience of playing 29 limited-overs matches for his country. Like Saini, Thakur’s first-class record is nothing to write home about and his 206 wickets have come at an average of nearly 29.
What he does bring to the table over others is an added ability to wield the bat. Should Ashwin join Jadeja in missing the Brisbane decider, then India could find themselves exposed with a lengthy tail. Thakur’s potential inclusion could help cushion the blow of losing both the spin all-rounders.
Kuldeep Yadav – Six Tests
Kuldeep Yadav will have fond memories of his only previous Test appearance in Australia, with the left-arm spinner claiming a five-wicket haul at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2019. He also did well against the same opposition on home soil three years ago by picking four wickets in the first innings of the Dharamshala Test.
Even though the Gabba has historically been a fast bowler’s paradise, it is rare to see India field an all-pace attack. Should Ashwin miss out in Brisbane, Kuldeep will be the only spin option available to the visitors.
The mystery around his wrist-spin has dwindled of late, especially in the shorter formats of the game. However, his past success against the Aussies and their frailties against spin could see the 26-year-old turn into an unlikely trump card for the tourists.