Sydney, Jan 2(AP/UNB) — There's no doubt ahead of the series finale about Virat Kohli's squad taking the Border-Gavaskar Trophy back to India.
There's plenty of uncertainty, though, about Ravi Ashwin's involvement at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and what influence that could have on India's main goal of the tour Down Under: to win a test series on Australian soil for the first time.
All Kohli's crew needs to do to achieve that feat is avoid a loss in the fourth test, having ensured they'll retain the bilateral trophy by taking a 2-1 lead in the series with a 137-run victory at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the Boxing Day test. That means the best an unsettled Australia lineup can do is draw the four-match contest by winning in Sydney.
Australia captain Tim Paine was unable to settle on a starting XI on Wednesday, the eve of the match, saying he'd wait to see what the wicket was like on the first morning of the match. It's likely there'll be a reshuffle of the faltering top order, with Usman Khawaja tipped to move up to open the innings, and Marnus Labuschagne a contender for a call up as a backup spinning option on a wicket expected to favor spin as it deteriorates.
India's squad is also unsettled. Kohli made comments about the possible absence of frontline spinner Ashwin, who missed the second and third tests after straining his abdomen while playing a key role in his team's victory in the first test in Adelaide last month.
But the Board of Control for Cricket in India released a 13-man squad, including Ashwin and excluding paceman Ishant Sharma, two hours later and said it would be trimmed before the toss. The BCCI said a decision on Ashwin's availability would be made on the morning of the match.
Opener KL Rahul, left-arm spinner Kuldeep Yadav and seamer Umesh Yadav were all added to the squad.
If Ashwin is ruled out, it would allow left-arm orthodox spinner Ravindra Jadeja, who took five wickets in the MCG test, to retain his place for the series finale with possible backup from part-timer Hanuma Vihari.
"He's very important for sure. In test cricket he's a vital part of this team and we wanted him to be 100 percent fit for a longer period so that he can come back to us in the test format," Kohli said of Ashwin, who missed the end of India's previous test series against England.
India will be missing middle-order batsman Rohit Sharma, who has returned home after the birth of his daughter.
Australia has been a vulnerable target for top-ranked India since senior batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner were suspended for 12 months and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft for nine months in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in March.
After leveling the series with a 146-run win in the second test in Perth, the Australians were again outplayed in Melbourne on a wicket where India won the toss and batted for the first two days to set up victory.
The Australian top order has been unable to consistently post big scores or partnerships, and selectors are under pressure to stop persisting with Aaron Finch as a test opener and bat him in the middle order.
Australia (from): Tim Paine (captain), Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head, Aaron Finch, Marnus Labuschagne, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Peter Handscomb, Mitch Marsh, Peter Siddle.
India (from): Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravichandran Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav.