Sydney, January 1: Former Australia cricketer Brad Hodge called Jasprit Bumrah "a nightmare to face" in an enormous compliment but picked Cheteshwar Pujara's runs at number three as the vital difference between the two sides. The final Test starts here on January 3, with India leading the four-match series 2-1.
"Pujara has been the difference between the two sides. Both bowling units have looked strong. Barring the first session in Perth (where Australia scored 112-0), and Mayank Agarwal in Melbourne, all four openers have struggled," Hodge told PTI.
"So, the number three position where Pujara has dominated, has been of importance. Not only has he not lost his wicket cheaply, but he has also taken time out of the game."
India regained the lead with a 137-run win in the third Test Melbourne, with Pujara scoring a hundred in the first innings. "He also negated Nathan Lyon who bowled extremely well in Adelaide and Perth. So Pujara's importance cannot be ignored. He was left out of the first Test in England, and came back into contention. He has not been playing T20 cricket, and instead went to play for Yorkshire. He does the hard work and is getting rewards."
The former Kings XI Punjab coach was full of praise for the Indian pace-attack, in particular Bumrah. "Bumrah is a nightmare to face. If you ask any batsman, he is one of the most dangerous bowlers to face. He is quick, very accurate and moves the ball both ways, which is what you want from a Test match bowler.
"His economy and strike-rates in Test cricket are already comparing to those for Kapil Dev, who is legendary in Indian cricket. So to be in that category within 12 months is amazing.
"The Indian attack has looked strong ever since they have arrived here. They have performed and backed up their captain well. Bumrah and Ishant Sharma, in particular, have looked in shape."
Hodge said that the Australian batsmen have let themselves down with a lack of Test cricket temperament and application. Even so, he added that the selectors have no option but to stick with the same combination. "From a batting point of view, this has been a disappointing series. The averages are well down. They simply haven't been good enough. The technique, temperament and aptitude to play Test cricket has been missing.
"The problem is they won a Test ten days ago (in Perth). So you expect a lot from this batting line-up, but when they cannot score 200 runs (in the first innings), then that's a serious issue.
"We have high expectations, a rich history, and we had some serious players in the past (David Warner and Steve Smith). But we are also up against a very good team."
Talking about potential changes for the Sydney Test, Hodge said Finch has to continue to open. "The selectors made errors with Finch opening. I am strong in my belief that he should have batted at number 4-5 – where he has batted for Surrey, Victoria. He hasn't done well at the top, and it has exposed the middle order.
"But he has to (open in Sydney again). You have to give faith to this group. You have picked this group to try and win the series against India and you have to back them. Make a judgment call after the series.
"It will be tough on this group if you make changes now. Give them at least until these four Tests and then you can ask questions later on after the series. You cannot make changes now," he added.
India are now on the cusp of history, with a win at the SCG assuring them of a first-ever Test series triumph on Australian soil. Hodge believes India can do it. "Australia only won a week ago (in Perth) and now seem in trouble. They look a defeated unit. We just have to see better results from them.
"We have not had a century from an Australian batsman in three Tests, which is unheard of in a home series. The wickets are good, and there is no reason why we shouldn't see that. Tim Paine is leading well and doing his job, but the Australian batting unit isn't doing theirs," Hodge signed off.