Ranchi, March 15 (IANS) After a week of charges and counter-charges from either side following India's dramatic comeback to win the second Test in Bengaluru and level the series 1-1 against Australia, all eyes will now be on the third game as the Jharkhand State Cricket Association International Stadium gears up to host its first ever five-day game here from Thursday.
Despite the absence of local boy and former India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who retired from the longest version of the game, the match promises to be a pulsating contest with all the focus on the pitch, especially after the International Cricket Council (ICC) rated the Pune track as "poor" and deemed the Bengaluru wicket as "below average".
Now that the series is in balance, both the teams will look to outwit each other. Australia is one win away from retaining the Border-Gavaskar trophy after their victory in the Pune Test while India need to win the match to keep the series alive.
Going into Thursday's encounter, the hosts will be bolstered by the likely return of regular opening batsman Murali Vijay, who missed the second Test with a shoulder injury. Vijay, who averages 55.90 against the Kangaroos will replace his Tamil Nadu teammate Abhinav Mukund, if picked.
India's major concern, meanwhile, will be the poor run of skipper Virat Kohli, who has totalled just 40 runs in the series after scoring double centuries in the last four Test series. His batting contributions in this series read: 0, 13, 12 and 15.
The hosts will, however, take some heart from the way the middle order duo of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane applied themselves on the third day M. Chinnaswamy pitch. Opener Lokesh Rahul was the only batsman who looked in total control in both his half centuries in the second Test.
In the bowling department, the spin duo of offie Ravichandran Ashwin and left-armer Ravindra Jadeja will once again be Kohli's lethal weapons alongside the pace battery of Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav.
On the other hand, Australia`s hopes suffered a double blow last week when all-rounder Mitchell Marsh and pace spearhead Mitchell Starc were ruled out of the final two Tests with injuries.
The Kangaroos will surely feel Starc's absence after he suffered a fracture in his foot and was sent home. His replacement Pat Cummins, if selected to play, will have a lot riding on him as he is returning to Test cricket after five years.
All-rounder Glenn Maxwell is expected to take Marsh's place while Australia have confirmed that Cummins could play his first Test since 2011.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon, who claimed eight wickets on the opening day of the second Test, is suffering from a sore spinning finger due to excessive bowling but is expected to play for the visitors.
The visitors will also expect a turnaround in their batting, after the lacklustre effort in the fourth innings of the second Test.
The batting will revolve around the likes of skipper Steve Smith, David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Shaun Marsh and Maxwell, if he gets a look-in.
India: Lokesh Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (Captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Wriddiman Saha (WK), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jayant Yadav.
Australia: Steven Smith (Captain), David Warner (VC), Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Nathan Lyon, Steve O'Keefe, Glenn Maxwell, Matt Renshaw, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade (WK).