India vs Australia 4th Test: A fast and weary Test at the Gabba
In every conceivable way, it's advantage Australia in the Border-Gavaskar series decider. The Gabba, venue of the final Test, is their fortress after 40 wins in 62 Tests and an unbeaten run since 1988. It's a historically speedy and bouncy pitch and Australia boast of the finest pace attack in the world right now. India, on the other hand, is a side so depleted by injuries that managing a fit XI is a challenge; the most damaged unit is the fast bowling one, which may (you'll know by the time you are reading this) see three bowlers with a combined Test experience of three matches take the field if Jasprit Bumrah is ruled out of because of his abdominal strain.
This is the venue Australia usually prefers for the series opener, as a shock-and-awe welcome to the touring side. This time it's hosting the series finale, but the shock-and-awe may still be in play for a battered Indian side fighting like a valiant unit under siege.
Yet, there’s a question mark: Is there enough fuel left in the tank for Australia's pace battery?
Most of India's bowling attack is so fresh that they are raw. On the other hand, Australia captain Tim Paine has operated with the same set of bowlers, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood for three Tests with little rest in between and the added hassle of bio-bubble life.
Bumrah, who is the only Indian pacer to have played all three Tests and is on the verge of a physical breakdown, is proof of that toll.
The Australian bowlers were also involved in long spells on the final day of the last Test in Sydney, where they were thwarted by a heroic India, and come into the fourth Test with little rest in between. There has been no respite for Australia's pace trio. Cummins will be coming into the final game with a total of 111.1 overs in the series; only Bumrah, with 117.4 overs, has bowled more among the fast bowlers in the series.
Starc and Hazlewood are not far behind with 98 overs each. At Sydney, Cummins sent down more overs than at any of the other matches, 47.4, of which 17 were bowled on the final day. On that day, Hazlewood sent down one more than Cummins, and Starc one less. The hard toil without success must have been hard on morale as well.
It's no wonder that the three clear days they have got since arriving in Brisbane has been spent only on rest and recovery (Indian bowlers had an extra day and half to recover, though that does little to help an attack with three first-choice pacers already out of the series).
“We have tried to rejuvenate all three of our fast bowlers; last week was a big week for them and particularly a big Day Five, and a short turnaround (between the Tests). Those guys are very good at doing that, they are professionals. The reason they are great Test cricketers is because they are extremely durable, they are about to play their fourth Test back-to-back,” said skipper Tim Paine on Thursday during the pre-match conference.
CUMMINS V PUJARA
From their electric performance in the first Test to bundle out India for an all-time low total of 36, there has been a gradual decline in the Australian attack's impact. It can be measured in the classic battle going on between the two heavyweights of the respective teams. For Australia, Cheteshwar Pujara’s wicket is all-important. The man assigned to the job is their world No 1 ranked bowler, Cummins.
The burly pacer started with a near-unplayable delivery to get Pujara in the second innings of the first Test, the ball coming in with the angle and then straightening after pitching to take the edge. Cummins got Pujara in both innings in Melbourne. But then he lost steam; from the high of 4 for 21 in the second innings at Adelaide, at Sydney he bowled his least productive spell of the series so far with just one wicket off 26 overs on the second innings.
The manner of Pujara’s dismissal in the second innings at Melbourne was particularly noticed because the batsman had played an uncharacteristic shot by prodding outside the off stump. But to Australia’s surprise, the batsman returned more resilient for the third Test. In the first innings, he played out whatever Cummins threw at him. In the second essay he looked even more chanceless. Pujara was out for 77 to Hazlewood, but by then he had wrested back the initiative from Cummins.
Spinner Nathan Lyon, for whom this will be his 100thTest, backed his pacers to be at their best.
“Out of 99 Test matches, it's the first time I've ever done an ice bath after a game (for recovery); everyone's doing what they can do,” Lyon said.