Vodafone Test Series v India
Aussies have edge heading to fortress Gabba: Ponting
Both teams with injury concerns heading into final Vodafone Test but former Australia captain says hosts hold upper hand
11 January 2021, 10:27 PM AEST
Australia's imperious record at the Gabba and India's injury toll is why Ricky Ponting says Tim Paine's side has the edge heading into the series decider in Brisbane.
The fourth Vodafone Test is a winner-takes-all encounter after India defied Australia's world-class attack on day five at the SCG to secure a brave draw and keep the series level at 1-1.
But the stalemate came at a cost, with allrounder Ravindra Jadeja (thumb) and batter Hanuma Vihari (hamstring) both unlikely to play at the Gabba, Australia's Test match fortress where they have not lost since 1988.
The Aussies have their own injury concerns, with rookie Will Pucovski waiting on scan results on his right shoulder that he hurt in the field on day five and prevented him from returning to the field to finish the match.
It's been a hard-fought series between two heavyweights of world cricket but Ponting says home advantage and a more stable XI gives the hosts the advantage heading into the tour finale.
"Australia will have the edge going to Brisbane," Ponting told cricket.com.au.
"One, (Australia's Gabba) record and two, if Will's OK then they won't have to make any changes and if Will's not they'll only have to make one change and they have had a pretty dominant performance in this game.
"India again are going to have a couple of injury concerns out of this game so they've got to find another couple of guys to bring in."
Ponting says Rishabh Pant, who scored a breathtaking 97 on Monday that had India on track for a remarkable win, could play as a specialist batter and give the wicketkeeping gloves back to Wriddhiman Saha.
Saha was the designated gloveman in the first Test and filled in behind the stumps in Sydney after Pant was struck on the elbow batting.
India's selectors also must decide whether they replace Jadeja with a bowler or a batter, with Ponting suggesting the latter would provide better balance.
"If they were to play another batter, they could play that batter at five and Rishabh stays at six and Saha can come in at seven," he said. "That looks pretty good to me."
As for Australia, Pucovski's injury has Ponting worried.
The 22-year-old had shown discomfort throwing during the match and was was spotted icing his shoulder before he left for scans on the final day.
If the youngster is forced out after just one Test, Australia's selectors could rejig the batting order by promoting Matthew Wade back to the top (where he batted in the first two Tests) and return Travis Head into the middle order.
Recalling specialist opener Marcus Harris is also an option for Justin Langer and fellow selectors Trevor Hohns and George Bailey.
"The thing I'm worried about with (Pucovski), a guy playing his first Test match, not to be back out in the field at the end of the day - to me that's a real worry," he said.
"If you're a young bloke and the Test match is on the line I know I would have done absolutely everything I could to get back out there.
"That says to me he probably couldn't function properly and if he couldn't function today then I would assume that he's in serious doubt for Brisbane.
"It probably makes more sense to go back to having Wade go back to the top and bring Travis Head into the middle order."
India's gutsy effort to outlast Australia across 131 overs in the fourth innings in Sydney has set up an intriguing decider for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, currently held by India.
Along with Pant's pyrotechnics, Cheteshwar Pujara made 77 while Vihari and Ravichandran Ashwin batted for 259 balls to save the Test.
Ponting says Australia bowled "reasonably well" and were not helped by dropping four catches, but believes the accolades should be directed to the resolute visitors.
"I think you've got to give a lot of credit to India and the steely determination they showed through the course of yesterday afternoon and today," Ponting said.
"The resolve that they showed today, Rishabh Pant was outstanding, Vihari and Ashwin were impenetrable.
"Full credit to them but it's one the Australians … that will hurt them I think."
Vodafone Test Series v India 2020-21
Australia Test squad: Tim Paine (c), Sean Abbott, Pat Cummins, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Will Pucovski, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade, David Warner
India Test squad: Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Rohit Sharma (vice-captain), Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Rishabh Pant (wk), Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Thangarasu Natarajan
First Test: Australia won by eight wickets
Second Test: India won by eight wickets
Third Test: Match drawn
Fourth Test: January 15-19, Gabba, 11am AEDT