Australia start the New Year trying to prevent India from creating history by winning a Test series in the country for the first time. The Border-Gavaskar Trophy is secured after the victory in Melbourne, but it is the bigger prize that Virat Kohli has come for and India have to be favourites to close out the series in Sydney.
There is a feeling somewhat similar to when England won the Ashes in 2010-11: they had a victory in Adelaide before Australia bounced back in Perth to build their confidence, only to be blown away in Melbourne, when England retained the Ashes. Australia came to Sydney with a squared series the best they could get, and on that occasion England overwhelmed them and came away 3-1 victors.
Having promised but ultimately come up short in their tours of South Africa and England in 2018, this is a chance Kohli will be desperate not to let slip through his fingers though he played down the weight of history. Winning in Australia is quite the accolade to have on a cricket CV – even one already as impressive as his.
Australia will hope they can start afresh after a 2018 that descended into chaos for them. Twelve months on from celebrating, not all that classily, a 4-0 Ashes victory on this ground, there is a lot of rebuilding still be done. However, for all Australia’s problems there is a sense a glimmer remains for them if they can sustain pressure on India as they did in Perth and the significance of this match was highlighted by the questions over both side’s selection.
Australia LWLLD (last five completed matches)
In the spotlight
Travis Head is Australia’s leading run-scorer in the series and has done enough to suggest to could make a success out of Test cricket, but his last four dismissals have raised questions over his shot selection. He was twice caught at third man in Perth and then twice bowled in Melbourne as he looked to attack. He will likely get the remainder of the Test season (two matches against Sri Lanka) to build on his start but will need to make a strong case for retention when Steven Smith and David Warner return for the Ashes.
It was the year of Virat Kohli in 2018, but what happens in the first week of 2019 will go a long way towards defining his Test legacy. It will be fascinating to watch him in Sydney; rarely has an India team, and therefore captain, been in this position in countries where victories are so sought after. He has always talked about wanting to win first, but could there be a time in this match when he plays safe? Does it make him bat any differently? And how does he manage his players with such a prize on the horizon?
There are a number of routes Australia could go, but it seems likely that Marnus Labuschagne will be recalled. It could be that Aaron Finch gets moved down the order or even dropped, the latter potentially opening the door for Peter Handscomb.
Australia (possible): 1 Marcus Harris, 2 Usman Khawaja, 3 Shaun Marsh, 4 Peter Handscomb/Aaron Finch, 5 Travis Head, 6 Marnus Labuschagne, 7 Tim Paine (capt & wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Josh Hazlewood
India made a late U-turn over R Ashwin’s fitness status with him being given until the morning of the match to prove he could play. The balance potentially rests on him, but India have been caught out before while playing him half-fit, against England in Southampton. Ishant Sharma misses out with discomfort in his left ribcage. KL Rahul looks set to replace Rohit Sharma and open, meaning Hanuma Vihari slips back down to No. 6.
India (possible): 1 Mayank Agarwal, 2 KL Rahul, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Hanuma Vihari, 7 Rishabh Pant (wk), 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Umesh Yadav, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Pitch and conditions
The 22 yards at the SCG have not had quite the focus of Perth or Melbourne, but there is still some talk. Tim Paine had a little pop at the groundsmen around Australia for not giving the team more favourable conditions, while Justin Langer hoped for some life in Sydney. The curator Justin Groves is confident it will be a pitch to offer something for everyone: some movement on the first day, reward for good batting, and spin later on. The forecast for the match is set fair – warm and sunny – with just a small risk of showers towards days four and five.
Stats and trivia
Australia made just four centuries in 2018, their lowest return since 1996 which brought two although from just five matches. Three of those hundreds came in the Sydney Test against England, from Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and Mitchell Marsh.
Kapil Dev holds the record for the most wickets by an India fast bowler in a Test series in Australia (25 in 1991-92), from five matches. Jasprit Bumrah currently has 20 wickets from three Tests.
The last time an Australia bowler not from New South Wales took a wicket on home soil was Jackson Bird in the 2016 Test against Pakistan in Melbourne.
“I think we are showing signs of getting better, I think in the last Test while out batters didn’t set the world on fire most guys got a start and showed that they can succeed at this level, so this Test there is going to be a real focus from our batting group.”
“If you ask me very honestly, no. What’s gone is not in our control and what will come is not something we need to think. We need to stay in the present.”
Virat Kohli on whether he is thinking about history