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India vs Australia: Kohli, Smith lock horns as Dharamsala makes blockbuster Test debut

Dharamsala Test would host sparkling action when the two sides meet on Saturday.

Akash Khanna | New Delhi |

The scenic HPCA Stadium in Dharamsala is gearing up for its blockbuster Test debut as it will host a high-intense series decider between India and Australia, the fourth Test of the four-match Test series starting Saturday.

Steve Smith-led Australia started resilient on Indian soil as they swayed the first Test in Pune by a mammoth margin of 333 runs. India, under the captaincy of Virat Kohli, bounced back in the second Test, beating the Aussies by 75 runs in Bangalore.

The third Test, held in Ranchi on March 16-20, however, was marked to be the most dramatic twist in the story. On the final day of the third Test, it looked as India have already win the clash, but then the resolute pair of Peter Handscomb and Shaun March emerged from the dark side to haunt the hosts.

The middle-order pair stood tall in front of the wickets in needy hours and put 124 runs for the fifth-wicket partnership to help Australia avoid a defeat and the match ended in a draw.

Consequently, the Dharamsala Test would host sparkling action when the two sides meet to vie for the shimmering Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

“Massive game in Dharamsala, can't wait to get there,” the concluding phrase by Steve Smith in the post-match ceremony of the drawn Ranchi Test expresses the best of emotions, excitement and enthusiasm that promises to grip the cricket-lovers world-wide.

Well-crafted in the valley of Dhauladhar mountain range, the HPCA Stadium gives a picturesque sight, which is so serene that one may come up with the best at what he do or might go lost in the beauty of the nature, leaving every concern behind.

In March 2016 during the World T20, Australia’s celebrated all-rounder Shane Watson announced his retirement from international cricket here, surrendering to the nature’s delight.

“One morning I woke up in Dharamsala to the beautiful view and I don't know what it was exactly but I knew now was the right time,” Watson said.

With carrying such a charm underneath, Dharamsala is ready to host its first ever Test. The nature of the turf favors batsmen the most, however, pacers get an added advantage as being located at a high altitude, the ball travels faster on this pitch.

Keeping the nature of the wicket in perspective, Australia appear a step forward in bowling, while India’s batting promises to balance or in fact weigh heaver for that matter.

Opener Kl Rahul has done justice at the position he play, scoring swift 282 runs from five innings of the series. Rahul’s opening partner Murali Vijay also displayed refined batting in Ranchi, smashing 82 runs off 183 balls.

Captain Kohli has not been up to the mark so far in the series, but the highest ODI run-scorer at the HPCA Stadium (212 runs off three matches) would look to earn a series' breakthrough in Dharamsala. 

In the middle-order, Cheteshwar Pujara, Wriddhiman Saha, Ajinkya Rahane and Karun Nair hold major responsibility. Pujara and Saha shouldered the responsibility greatly in the third Test as they put a record 199-run partnership stand for the seventh-wicket.

Along with leading the bowling attack, spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja has contributed well with the willow as well in the lower middle-order.

For Australia, the most-concerning fact is the form slump of David Warner, who managed to score just 131 runs from past six innings. Conversely, the 20-year-opener Matt Renshaw has done reasonably well scoring 223 runs so far in the series.

However, it is Australian skipper Steve Smith, who inspires the team the most. His exemplary knock of 178 tuns (not out) laid foundation for Australia in Ranchi added to his kitty that contains 371 runs from three Test matches.

For the fourth Test, Smith may play three pace bowlers as only they can help them clinch the series. Jackson Bird, who has taken 34 wickets from eight Tests, may come in place of spinner Steve O'Keefe, while Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood are expected to lead the pace havoc at the high-altitude venue.

India Probable XI: Virat Kohli (C), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Karun Nair, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha (WK), Ishant Sharma, Murali Vijay, Umesh Yadav

Australia Probable XI: Steven Smith (C), David Warner, Jackson Bird/Steve O'Keefe, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Matt Renshaw, Matthew Wade (WK)