AHMEDABAD: Stand-in captain Steve Smith is looking forward to a new “game of chess” against India as Australia aim to square the series on another spin minefield when the final Test begins in Ahmedabad on Thursday.
India were chastened by a rare home defeat in the third Test last week and are looking to bounce back to take the series 3-1, and with it secure their berth in the ICC World Test Championship final at the Oval in June.
Australia clinched their place in the showpiece with their nine-wicket third Test win, completed before lunch on the third day on a treacherous Indore track.
Australia captain Pat Cummins has remained at home because of a family illness, leaving his deputy Smith with another chance to pit his wits against India in the subcontinent, something he clearly relishes.
“It’s a game of chess, every ball means something,” said Smith after the Indore victory, which followed India’s wins in Nagpur and Delhi.
“It’s good to just move people and try to make the batter do something different and just play games with them,” Smith said after the Indore triumph.
“It’s probably my favourite place in the world to captain.”
India and Australia’s prime ministers are scheduled to attend on Thursday where another sharply turning wicket is expected at the Narendra Modi Stadium, the world’s largest cricket ground with a capacity of 132,000.
Joe Root’s England were thrashed there twice two years ago, including inside two days in a day-night game, the shortest completed Test since 1935.
‘Too much’ pitch talk
Despite the local Gujarat Cricket Association’s assurances of a “normal pitch”, both sides are again expected to pick three spinners, though India may opt for the wrist-spin of Kuldeep Yadav instead of Axar Patel, who has taken only one wicket in the series.
India may also strengthen their batting by dropping a seam bowler and bringing in the explosive Suryakumar Yadav.
Australia’s spinners Nathan Lyon and Matthew Kuhnemann took full advantage of an Indore pitch officially rated as “poor” by the match referee to give Australia only their second Test victory on Indian soil since 2004.
Kuhnemann took five wickets and Lyon three as India were rolled for 109 in their first innings after opting to bat.
Usman Khawaja’s 60 in a 96-run stand with Marnus Lasuschagne helped Australia to an 88-run lead, despite a late collapse from 186-4 to 197 all out.
Lyon ripped through with 8-64 as India made 163 in their second innings, before Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne chased down the 76-run target with ease.
India captain Rohit Sharma said he was fed up with the constant focus on the playing surfaces and wanted to focus instead on some exceptional bowling performances.
“This pitch talk is getting too much,” he said after the Indore Test. “Every time we play in India it’s always about the pitch.
“Out of the 10 wickets maybe one or two where the pitch did help the bowler, but other than that it was the skill of the bowler that foxed the batsman”.
India (from): Rohit Sharma (capt), KL Rahul, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, KS Bharat, Ishan Kishan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat
Australia (from): Steve Smith (capt), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Matt Kuhnemann, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Lance Morris, Todd Murphy, Matt Renshaw, Mitchell Starc