A depleted Australia will look to stand-in captain Steve Smith for inspiration after two demoralising Test defeats in India as they try to salvage the series when the third match begins in Indore Wednesday.
But India could pull a selection switch amid opener KL Rahul’s extended batting slump, with calls for Shubman Gill to replace him in the third Test.
India’s lower-order batting has played a big part in their success with Axar Patel, who has come in at nine and eight in the order, scoring 158 runs — the second-highest aggregate in the series behind Rohit Sharma’s 183.
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Opener Rahul’s woes has left him struggling to hold on to his spot with Gill expected to replace him at the top of the order.
India did not name a vice-captain for the final two Tests, fuelling rumours that Rahul, who was Rohit’s deputy in the first two matches, will be axed.
“If the vice-captain doesn’t perform, someone can take his place,” former India coach Ravi Shastri told an ICC podcast, questioning the need for a deputy to be named for a home series.
“I’m being blunt and brutal,” he said. “Overseas, it’s different. Here, you want prime form, you want someone like Shubman Gill, who’s red hot.”
India won the opener by an innings and 132 runs in Nagpur and then won by six wickets on another turning pitch at New Delhi’s Arun Jaitley Stadium.
Led by Sharma, India will be looking to clinch the series and with it a berth in June’s World Test Championship final at The Oval in London.
India have depended on their spin trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel to rip through the Australian batters, whose attempts to counter-attack failed in Delhi as they were bowled out for 113 after taking a slim first innings lead.
As for Australia, captain Pat Cummins flew home to be with his seriously ill mother and opted not to return for the third Test, saying it was “best being here with my family”.
Opener David Warner will miss the rest of the series after suffering a fractured elbow and concussion in Delhi and pace bowler Josh Hazlewood has flown home with a persistent Achilles.
India’s 2-0 lead means they have already retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy leaving Australia the task of winning both of the remaining Tests to level the four-match series.
Fit-again duo of all-rounder Cameron Green and left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Starc are likely to be recalled, though spin is sure to play a big part in the match.
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“If myself or some of the other seamers get a chance out here we will have to play an important role with the spinners to take those 20 wickets,” Starc said Monday.
Smith was Australia captain between 2014 and 2018 before the “sandpapergate” scandal in South Africa ended his tenure.
He captained the team that toured India in 2017 and led from the front with his batting as Australia went down to the hosts 2-1 in a hard-fought series.
“It is pretty seamless,” said Starc of Smith stepping in.
“He has obviously done it for a long time. I have played a lot of cricket with Steve as captain,” said Starc.
“Hopefully it’s another great week for our team to bounce back from the last two.”
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