India chase historic whitewash
Match factsMarch 22-26, Delhi
Start time 0930 (0400 GMT)
Big Picture"This is a young Australian team. They are even getting beaten on their home grounds consistently. We should defeat them easily and a 4-0 whitewash is a real possibility." When Harbhajan Singh said those words at the start of the tour, most people laughed it off as a gratuitous jibe based on wishful thinking. A day ahead of the final Test, though, a whitewash looms as an all-too real possibility.
The series victory comes as a salve for India, smarting after the home defeats to England. What will be particularly pleasing for Indian fans is that the win has been built on the back of a new generation, shorn of most of the stalwarts of the past decade. Of the middle-order heavyweights only Sachin Tendulkar remains; India's most successful opening is on the sidelines, long-time pace spearhead Zaheer Khan hasn't played in months and Harbhajan remains a bit-part player even after his career was handed a lifeline at the start of the series.
Most of India's heroes have been players in the early stages of their Test career - M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Whether they can thrive in unfamiliar overseas conditions is a debate for later; for now they are spearheading India's charge towards a fourth victory in the series - an unprecedented feat for the team.
From being pilloried for their defeats in Test cricket, India now have an outside chance of finishing the series as joint No. 2 in the rankings. Australia, on the other hand, had the No. 1 within their grasp a few months ago but, after a dreadful tour highlighted by indiscipline, injuries and technical ineptness, could slip down to fourth. Shane Watson and the rest of the "gang of four" are back after sitting out the Mohali Test but Mitchell Starc has become the latest to pull out of the tour due to an injury, and Australia's captain Michael Clarke is still nursing a bad back which could keep him out of Delhi. If Australia manage to avoid the whitewash from here, it will be a huge achievement.
Form guideIndia WWWDL (Last five matches, most recent first)
Watch out for...One Test after being axed for indiscipline, calling the punishment "very harsh" and that he would weigh up his future, Shane Watson could return not just to the team, but as Australia's captain. There are question marks over his relationship with Clarke, and there are still plenty of people sceptical about his Test performances. Having given up bowling in this series, he hasn't yet delivered a substantial score in his four innings. It extends a fallow spell that has yielded just one half-century in 12 Test innings. Ahead of an Ashes-heavy season, Watson needs a big performance in Delhi.
Ravindra Jadeja has his share of doubters, and few thought he could deliver at the Test level, but he has been convincing as a second spinner so far in this series. Not only has he kept things tight, he has dismissed Australia's best batsman five times, and his 17 wickets in the series are more than the combined haul of Australia's spinners. He hasn't yet made a significant score with the bat, though there were a couple of cracking boundaries to ease India home in Mohali.
India had sent Shikhar Dhawan for the pre-match press conference in Mohali ahead of his debut, but it wasn't Ajinkya Rahane who faced the press ahead of this game. That doesn't necessarily rule out a long-awaited debut for Rahane, but it indicates that the team management have not yet made up their minds about blooding him.
India (probable) 1 Ajinkya Rahane, 2 M Vijay, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Virat Kohli, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Pragyan Ojha, 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar and 11 Ishant Sharma.
With Clarke not training on Thursday, it is unlikely he will play the Test, leaving Watson in charge. Phillip Hughes has probably done just enough in the Mohali second innings to save his place, while Xavier Doherty's underwhelming performances should see him on the bench. Moises Henriques will also be a nervous man ahead of the game, after having failed to build on his bright debut.
Australia: (probable) 1 David Warner, 2 Ed Cowan, 3 Phillip Hughes, 4 Shane Watson (capt), 5 Steven Smith, 6 Matthew Wade (wk), 7 Glenn Maxwell, 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 James Pattinson, 10 Peter Siddle, 11 Nathan Lyon.
Pitch and conditionsDelhi is one of India's favourite venues, having won eight out of nine Tests there since losing to Viv Richards' champion side in 1987. Given the vast gulf in quality between the spinners in the two sides, it will surprise no one if the Kotla track turns out to be a turner. It is nowhere near the peak of summer, but Delhi will still be warm, with temperatures in the mid-30s.
Stats and trivia
- The last time Australia lost four Tests in a series was during the Ashes in 1978-79, and their only 0-4 whitewash was against South Africa in 1969-70
- Fast bowlers have had a difficult time in recent years at the Feroz Shah Kotla, averaging 43.57 since 2000
"Till the time the ball gets old, I have to play the defensive role of trying to contain the batsmen. Everyone has been assigned a specific role and we perform our roles accordingly."
"Of the eight times their batsmen have passed 50, they've passed 100 six times and 200 twice. We've had eight instances where we've passed 50, but we only have one century to show for it."
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo