The last time when India played a Test at Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), they scored 622 runs batting first. The last time when Australia played a test at SCG, they smashed 454 runs batting first. However, this time, with the series at stake, it will be really interesting to see how things roll out in Sydney. India and Australia are ready to play the pink test at the SCG amid all the out-field controversies.
SCG is often considered a batting-friendly wicket. SCG does not offer great pace and bounce like Gabba, Brisbane; but it will be handy for spinners after day 3 or so. All three spinners (Ashwin, Jadeja and Lyon) will have a huge role to play in this match.
It is a no-brainer. Both captains will look to bat first after winning the toss. Sydney wicket has always been top-notch for batting. In fact, all captains have considered batting first after winning the toss in the last five test matches played at SCG. The average score in the first innings at SCG is 317 and 313 for second innings. Out of 108 test matches played at SCG, 47 of them have won batting first. So, the toss will be an important factor in tomorrow’s match. Win the toss, and bat first.
Will Pucovski is likely to receive his baggy green. A Will Pucovski debut means Matthew Wade would probably be batting after Smith, leaving no place for Travis Head in the playing XI. Although, David Warner is not a 100% fit, he will participate in the third test. He played some convincing shots in the nets ahead of the third test. Warner is in a red-hot form currently and Indian bowlers will have to work hard to get him out.
David Warner in his last five tests (both innings combined): 156 vs NZ, 79 vs NZ, 62 vs NZ, 335 vs PAK, 154 vs PAK.
“Come on, Gary!” We might hear a few of these in the third test match. Nathan Lyon’s form is a big concern for Australia. Indian batsmen have figured a way to approach him as Lyon has picked only four wickets in two tests in the current Border-Gavaskar Trophy. However, we see a different Lyon when the match is played at SCG. Nathan Lyon has taken 36 wickets in his 16 innings including two five-wicket hauls at SCG. Lyon bowls at an economy rate of 3.04 at SCG with a fine average of 37.6.
Nathan Lyon has dismissed Rohit Sharma five times in his Test career. Rohit’s strike rate falls to 55.08 when he faces Lyon. On the other side, Lyon has dismissed Pujara 10 times in his career. Lyon will look to get back in form in the third test and it will be quite interesting to see how Indian batsmen play against him.
The Indian team has already announced their playing XI. Rohit Sharma will return to the squad for the last two tests. Rohit will open the innings along with Shubman Gill, who played some terrific shots in his first test. The inclusion of Rohit as an opener means Mayank Agarwal will have to find his way out. Navdeep Saini is all set to make his Test debut as he will replace injured Umesh Yadav. KL has been ruled out of the remaining test series due to an injury in his left wrist. This means Hanuma Vihari will still play at number five.
India’s playing XI: Rohit Sharma (VC), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (c), Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini.
While some fans wanted Natarajan to make his debut, some wanted Mayank to play the third test. The balderdash debate on Twitter continues…
— Dark Knight (@rising_symbol) January 6, 2021
In 2018, India was in desperate need of a consistent test opener. Murali Vijay’s poor run gave Mayank Agarwal a chance. Agarwal made his debut at Melbourne Cricket Ground. Since then, he has scored most for India in tests. In 2018, he scored 118 runs in his two innings while playing in Australia. In 2019, he scored 754 runs including two half-centuries and three centuries. In the same year, Agarwal also recorded his highest test score 243 against Bangladesh.
However, 2020 was not one of the great years for him. His average was only 16.6 in 2020. He only scored 133 runs in his eight innings with one half-century in 2020. His weakness was exploited by the Aussie quicks.
Mayank Agarwal in his last five tests (Both innings combined): 5 vs AUS, 26 vs AUS, 10 vs NZ, 92 vs NZ, 0 VS NZ-A.
On the other hand, Rohit Sharma had a fantastic home season before coming into this tour and Shubman Gill looked promising in his first test. Rohit has opened five test matches for India. This will be the first time he will open for India on an overseas tour. Sharma has scored 556 runs (three centuries) in tests with an average of 92.66 as an opener. The current form speaks for itself.
Clearly, Agarwal is dropped based on his current form. I do not see a reason to debate upon that. If India needs to win the test series, they need a solid opening partnership. That is where India was struggling. Due to Agarwal’s poor run, they were not able to get those big opening partnerships. Both, Sharma and Gill are in great touch. Hopefully, they will put up a good opening partnership. Maybe, it is time for Agarwal to work upon his weakness. He was an integral part of this team and hopefully, he will make a strong comeback.
On the other hand, it is too early for Natarajan to make his test debut. Natarajan is yet to prove himself in white-ball format. He has only played one ODI and three T20Is. He was not even named in the original test squad. I believe that he has to first become consistent in the shorter formats. Saini is yet to prove himself in Test cricket and I believe this is the right time to test him in red-ball cricket. Saini is definitely a better red-ball bowler than Natarajan as of now and I think India made a good choice by picking him.
The third test is undoubtedly the most important test in this series. If India wins the test, they will retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. If Australia wins it, they will go 2-1 up in the series. Who knows, it could also be a draw. The race to the World Test Championship is still on and India will have to win at least one out of their two matches left in the series to remain in the lead and to qualify for the World Test Championship final at Lord’s.