Rohit Sharma set to exchange Mayank Agarwal

Sydney, January 5

Rohit Sharma is certain to replace Mayank Agarwal at the top of the batting order against Australia in the third Test, which starts here on Thursday. The Indian team management is weighing its options for the third pacer’s slot too, with Shardul Thakur and Navdeep Saini in contention.

Ashish Nehra, former India pacer

On Sydney pitch, you will require a bit more pace and Navdeep (Saini) has that. …you haven’t tested Natarajan by playing him for India A. Navdeep has come up the ranks having been on multiple red ball tours of India A

Agarwal’s axing was only a matter of time after consecutive failures in his last six Test innings — with scores of 7, 3, 17, 9, 0, 5 — and Sharma, despite not playing any competitive cricket since the IPL final on November 10, is likely to replace him in the playing XI.

The choice for the third pacer’s slot has got a bit tricky with divergent opinions emerging on who could fit the role best in the absence of the injured Umesh Yadav.

Mumbai seamer Shardul Thakur, who is a useful lower-order batsman too, had emerged as the early favourite to replace Yadav but it is learnt that some senior players feel that Saini, India’s fastest bowler, could be used to unsettle the wobbly Australian batting line-up with raw pace.

The Indian team had a net session at the overcast Sydney Cricket Ground today and all eyes were on Sharma, who looked pretty comfortable against both pace and spin.

Decision delayed

The decision on the third pacer has been primarily delayed because today the wicket was covered due to the overcast conditions. A look at the wicket and the conditions tomorrow will help the Indians make a decisive choice. If the conditions are forecast to be cloudy and there is a significant moisture on the wicket, then Thakur is expected to be preferred. If the track is on the flatter side, Saini, with his pace and ability to reverse-swing the old ball, could prove to be a handful against a batting order that is struggling to reach even 200 runs in an innings.

If Saini plays, it will be his debut in the longest format while for Thakur, it would be like a debut as he couldn’t even finish his second over when he played his first Test against West Indies two years ago due to an injury. — PTI, TNS

Third man: T Natarajan

There is a third angle to the debate over the pace attack and that is Thangarasu Natarajan, who has had a meteoric rise in the past four months and many feel he is ready for Test cricket. Natarajan has played 20 First-Class matches, the last of which was a year ago against Railways in Chennai. Railways were bowled out for 76 and 90 on a rank turner, and Natarajan bowled a total of 11 overs in that match and picked up three wickets. Whether Natarajan is ready for the arduous bump and grind of Test cricket is the biggest question.

Likely India squad

Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Siraj, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur/Navdeep Saini

Rahul out with sprained left wrist

Sydney: India batsman KL Rahul was today ruled out of the remaining two Tests against Australia after sustaining a wrist injury during training in Melbourne, the BCCI said. Rahul had not played any match of the ongoing series. “KL Rahul sprained his left wrist while batting in the nets at the MCG during Team India’s practice session on Saturday. …he will need about three weeks time to recover completely and regain full strength,” the BCCI said in a statement.

Warner likely to play, Pukovski set for debut

David Warner has done everything to be ready and is likely to compete in the third Test, Australia head coach Justin Langer said today. Langer assured that the lack of four-day cricket for the opener in the last few months is not a concern. Langer also announced that young batsman Will Pucovski will make his Test debut on Thursday. Both Warner and Pukovski, who was primed for Test debut in Adelaide, missed the first two Tests of the series due to a groin injury and concussion-related issues, respectively. “Very hopeful that David will be ready to go (for the third Test), he is a bit of a warrior, isn’t he? I have said this since Day 1 that he is doing everything possible to be ready,” Langer said. Langer also announced that 22-year-old Pucovski, who was hit on the head during the warm-up game against India A, has been cleared to play. “He has been cleared and that will be very heartening for him and for his family and everyone involved in it,” he said.

Likely Australia squad

Will Pucovski, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Cameron Green, Tim Paine (wicketkeeper), Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon

Langer lauds disciplined India

Australia coach Justin Langer today said India have been distinctly well-planned and disciplined, especially in bowling. “…their greatest strength over the last couple of series has been their discipline,” Langer said. “They (India) have been so well disciplined… I have loved the last two Tests because the wickets have been a contest between bat and ball and you have got to work a bit harder and that is what Test cricket is all about,” he added.

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