SYDNEY - With a maiden Test series win in Australia within touching distance, India walk into 2019 with the aim of defying history; Australia, to level the series.

India’s loss in the second Test in Perth seems like an anomaly given the way they have won in Adelaide and Melbourne, the last one coming in an emphatic fashion, by 137 runs, and it only affirmed India’s aim to go for the series in Sydney.

However, they have had their issues during the short turnaround time between the Tests as Ravichandran Ashwin is still in doubt for the final game, Rohit Sharma is back in India to be with his wife and newborn daughter, and Ishant Sharma picked up a niggle to be left out of the final 13.

MATCH STARTS

AT 4:00 AM

Still, with the batting core of captain Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane intact and the bowling group led by Jasprit Bumrah, the Player of the Match in Melbourne, India remain a potent threat.

With the pitch in Sydney expected to assist spin, India have named both Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav in their 13 and may go in with two specialist spinners, although Kohli hinted at using Hanuma Vihari as a spin-bowling option. If that happens, Umesh Yadav could come in as a like-for-like replacement for Ishant.

Mayank Agarwal impressed in his debut Test with a half-century in the first innings and is set to open the batting likely with KL Rahul, which could then push Vihari down the order to occupy Rohit’s place. All in all, India look settled, despite being without some of their experienced players, something that speaks of their bench strength.

For Australia, too, changes are in order. The batting line-up came in for some criticism after the Boxing Day Test where Australia were dismissed for 151 in the first innings. Aaron Finch and Mitchell Marsh in particular were under the scanner and could lose their spots, with all-rounder Marnus Labuschagne added to the squad for Sydney.

Labuschagne may also double up as the second spinning option alongside Nathan Lyon as the former’s leg-spin will complement Lyon’s off-breaks. The rest of the line-up is likely to remain the same with Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja and Travis Head having done their bits to play the first Test of the year.

Pat Cummins was the fulcrum for Australia in the third Test, starring with both bat and ball, and he will have to play the role Australia want Marsh to perform, and may be in for another long Test match. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood will look to raise their game to make Cummins’ job easier.

Kohli’s India isn’t chasing history in Sydney, the captain revealed ahead of the Test Kohli’s India isn’t chasing history in Sydney, the captain revealed ahead of the Test

Key players

Pat Cummins, Australia’s knight in shining armour, single-handedly carried Australia’s hopes of a win in Melbourne but received little support from his mates. Come Sydney, and he will look to add to his tally of half-centuries and five-wicket hauls – both of which he achieved in Melbourne.

If Cummins was Australia’s valiant hero, Jasprit Bumrah was for India. Six wickets in the first innings and three in the second broke the back of the Australian batting line-up, and he will be the No.1 threat for the hosts in the remainder of the tour, both in this Test and beyond.

The first day of the Test is expected to be warm with expected temperature of 27 degrees C and the second day could be overcast. The third will be the hottest as mercury levels may rise as high as 33.

The pitch at the SCG is expected to assist spin on the last three days and there could be some reverse swing on offer as well.

SQUADS

AUSTRALIA: Tim Paine (c), Aaron Finch, Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Siddle, Marnus Labuschagne

INDIA: Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav.