On a day when Australia went through an optional training session and India gave it a complete miss, one man resumed his race against time to make it to the Sydney Test. India would have given training a miss on the first day of the year, irrespective of the happy scoreline of 2-1, but they might have a happier headache if R Ashwin, who turned up at the SCG indoor nets on the team's day off, is fit and ready for selection. Ashwin was accompanied by physio Patrick Farhart and trainer Shankar Basu to the SCG even as Australia wound up their optional training session.
Ashwin injured himself on the fourth evening of the Adelaide Test, and he further aggravated the injury as Australia kept India on the field for almost the whole fifth day, before the visitors sealed their first win of the series. Ashwin went on to miss both the Perth and Melbourne Tests with the "left-sided abdominal strain".
It is understood that the session on Tuesday, where the trio spent more than an hour in the nets, was not yet the official fitness test. A final decision might not be made even on Wednesday when the team reconvenes to train for the series decider that begins on Thursday. The latest update on Ashwin's fitness was given by captain Virat Kohli on Sunday, moments after the Melbourne Test, which India won, making sure they can't lose the series now.
"I think Ashwin's very close to being match-fit," Kohli had said. "He's been bowling a lot of overs, and I'm sure these next four days will make him even stronger. So regardless of it being the last Test match, he will be willing to push himself and start for the team but again it depends on what kind of pitch we get in Sydney."
The last few words might be crucial to Ashwin's chances even if he is fully fit. If Ashwin's selection depends on the pitch, India might possibly have made their minds up to go with Ravindra Jadeja should they deem only one spinner is required.
Sydney has been through a warm week, Tim Paine said he expected a dry pitch, and given that Australia need a result and they have added another spinner-batsman [Marnus Labuschagne] to their squad, don't be surprised if India feel the need to play two spinners themselves. If India do play the extra spinner, they might consider including Hardik Pandya as the seam-bowling insurance. Pandya could take the place of Rohit Sharma, who has gone back to India for the birth of his daughter. If they want to play to preserve the lead, India might choose differently. All that depends on how they read the pitch on Wednesday and Thursday morning.