#INDvAUS: Cloud of uncertainty – India captain did not bat in nets on Thursday, Shreyas Iyer called as cover; Bhuvneshwar likely to get nod as pitch will assist pacers
Virat Kohli at a practice session in Dharamshala on Thursday ahead of the final Test against Australia (PTI)
As Team India reached this picturesque cricket ground for its first practice session before the fourth and final Test, it was greeted with a cool breeze from the snow-covered Dhauladhar ranges. By the time the players readied to leave the practice arena after nearly 90 minutes of net sessions, the slight drizzle ensured that the sweat and fatigue would soon disappear, leaving them feeling fresh and invigorated.
After some high temperature outings, on and off the field in the last three Tests in Pune, Bengaluru and Ranchi, cricket at this high-altitude centre would be a completely different ball game. And, there is every likelihood that verbal bouncers would be replaced by some extra bounce on the wicket.
Mocking each other may well be countered by cut and pull shots on this batting-friendly wicket, but one thing is for sure, the character of this Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association pitch would not change even a bit in the next 36 hours before the toss. This is because the chief curator here, Sunil Chauhan, is not the one who would be so easily manipulated by someone.
Chauhan was the man in-charge when in 2003 this pitch was first prepared. He has ensured during all these 14 years since then that the HPCA wicket does not crumble under any pressure or demands.
"I don't take instructions from anyone. I've always prepared the wicket here keeping in mind that it should be result-oriented. And this time also, batsmen would love playing horizontal bat strokes on this good bouncy track," Chauhan told DNA on Thursday.
Chauhan has a reason to say all this because all four Ranji Trophy games played here this season have lasted full four days. Three of them produced results on the fourth day while only one resulted in a draw. And who doesn't remember Rohit Sharma's sparkling century during the T20 International at the same venue last time around.
But then Chauhan has a word of caution for the batters. "Beware of those black clouds," hinting at the ones moving in from Dhauladhar side, that could change the scenario of the game in one particular session. Chauhan was proved right within the next two hours as thick clouds blanked out the clear skies over the stadium.
Going by past experience, both India and Australia would be tempted to go with one extra pacer in the decider. And what else than looking at how Ishwar Pandey of Madhya Pradesh or Ashok Dinda of Bengal got bagful of wickets in their respective Ranji games here.
"The carry would be more than any other wicket in India for sure. The wicket is not going to break as we've been watering it every day and also the soil that we use here comes from Ludhiana. It binds well to last full five days.
But as I said earlier, there will always be times during all five days when pacers can extract some extra with the help of weather," said the curator.
Kohli in doubt
Even though Mohammad Shami has been declared fit to play the final Test, it would be a bit of a gamble for team management to put him directly into the battlefield, especially knowing that he has only bowled a dozen overs after returning from the injury he sustained against England.
Shami's condition is closely monitored by physio Patrick Farhart and it would be Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who is likely to be given preference in case of playing the third seamer.
But the real worry is related to skipper Virat Kohli's shoulder. The 28-year-old is nursing an injury to his right shoulder sustained while fielding in Ranchi on the opening day. Although Kohli came with the squad on Thursday, his right shoulder was heavily bandaged. He took part in the customary warm-up and fielding drills, but later went to the gymnasium along with the team physio thus, skipping any batting practice.