India left out Ishant Sharma, and left the door open to play two frontline spinners in Sydney for the final Test against Australia.
Who the spinners will be, however, will be decided on the morning of the Test, with doubts remaining over the availability of Ravichandran Ashwin.
Ashwin, who picked up a groin strain in the first Test, is still not fully fit, India announced at the pre-match press-conference. But when the BCCI announced the squad of 13 on their Twitter feed for the game starting on Thursday, January 3, his name featured, with the board clarifying that a final decision would be taken on the morning of the match.
According to reports, Ashwin trained by himself on Tuesday, even as the rest of the team took New Year’s Day off. Both Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav are in the 13-member shortlist. However, Hanuma Vihari too could be used as a part-time spin option, as India had done in the second Test, where they went with a four-man pace attack.
India name 13-man squad for SCG Test: Virat Kohli (C), A Rahane (VC), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, C Pujara, H Vihari, R Pant, R Jadeja, K Yadav, R Ashwin, M Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav
— BCCI (@BCCI) January 2, 2019
Fast bowler Sharma has been left-out for the final game, with Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and the returning Umesh Yadav forming the pace trio.
With Rohit Sharma set to miss the final Test following the birth of his daughter, KL Rahul earned a potential recall, and could open with Mayank Agarwal, with Vihari moving back down to the middle order.
Speaking on the eve of the match, Virat Kohli said Ashwin was “disappointed” at not having recovered full fitness, and seemed to suggest he won’t play. “It’s unfortunate that he’s had two niggles that are similar in the last couple of away tours,” he said. “The physio and trainer have spoken to him in terms of what’s required in order to get over that injury. He’s very important for sure … In Test cricket he’s a vital part of the team and we want him to be 100% fit and for a longer period so that he can contribute more to us in the Test format.
“He’s very disappointed with the fact that he’s not able to recover in time but the things have been laid out to him about what needs to be done to get back to full fitness. Honestly, you can’t really predict an injury, you can only manage it. And he’s doing what he can to get over that injury.”
Hinting at the option of giving Vihari greater bowling responsibility in the absence of Ashwin, Kohli added, “[Ashwin’s absence] does make you alter your plans a little bit. But the fact that Vihari has bowled beautifully whenever we’ve given him the ball makes us absolutely calm about Ashwin not getting to play.
“[Vihari] has looked like picking up a wicket whenever he comes to bowl. He’s pitching the ball in the right areas and we are looking at him as a solid bowling option, specially in this Test match because he’s got pace on the ball, he puts in the effort and he’s economical – that’s all you need from a guy who will bowl 10-12 overs a day.”