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Ishant out, Ashwin in doubt for SCG Test

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Ravichandran Ashwin's availability for the SCG Test remains a doubt as the spinner hasn't recovered completely from the groin strain he suffered in the series opener in Adelaide. Ashwin missed the second and third Test in Perth and Melbourne, and is racing against time to try and prove his fitness for the SCG game.
Ishant Sharma's absence is owing to the discomfort he has felt in his left rib cage. The team management opted against risking the pacer for the SCG game and kept him out of the 13-man shortlist. For Ashwin, the initial announcement was that he will miss the Test but was later added to the shortlist with the plan of taking a decision on him on the morning of the Test on January 3.
The senior spinner spent January 1 - an off-day for the Indian team - training alone at the SCG in order to regain full fitness. Should he fail to make the cut for SCG, India will have a big decision to make. Ashwin was primed to return to the XI in place of Rohit Sharma, who has flown back to Mumbai to be with his wife and new-born daughter. Hardik Pandya's absence from the shortlist hints at three possibilities :
- Ashwin passes fit on the morning of the game and comes in for Rohit Sharma
- Ashwin isn't fit and India bring in Kuldeep Yadav in place of Rohit to account for a surface that might have turn as the Test progresses
- Hanuma Vihari is pushed back to the middle-order and operates as a second spinner alongside Ravindra Jadeja while KL Rahul makes a comeback in place of Rohit and opens the batting with Mayank Agarwal.
- If Ashwin doesn't pass fit, the third option appears to be the likeliest considering Kohli talked up Vihari's bowling abilities on the eve of the SCG Test.
"It [Ashwin's absence] does make you alter your plans a little bit throughout the course of the series. But the fact that Vihari has bowled beautifully whenever we've given him the ball makes us absolutely calm about ashwin not getting to play. It is obviously a disappointment for us as a team and him, but if you see the way vihari has bowled, he's looked like picking up a wicket whenever he comes to bowl.
"He's pitching the ball in the right areas and we are looking at him as a solid bowling option, specially in this Test match because he's got pace on the ball, he puts in the effort and he's economical - that's all you need from a guy who will bowl 10-12 overs a day," Kohli said.
Ashwin began on a promising note, picking up six wickets in India's victory in Adelaide, but for the second consecutive away tour, the spinner has struggled to retain fitness throughout. In England, Ashwin played in the first three Tests but suffered an aggravation of his groin injury that kept him out of the fourth and final game at the Oval.
Kohli revealed that Ashwin was disappointed at not being able to regain full fitness and that the spinner has been told what he needs to do get over his injury.
"It's unfortunate that he's had two niggles that are similar in the last couple of away tours. It's obviously something him or anyone else will be focussed to correct. The physio and trainer have spoken to him in terms of what's required in order to get over that injury. He's very important for sure... in Test cricket he's vital part of the team and we want him to be 100 percent fit and for a longer period so that he can contribute more to us in the Test format.
"He's very disappointed with the fact that he's not able to recover in time but the things have been laid out to him about what needs to be done to get back to full fitness. Honestly, you can't really predict an injury, you can only manage it. And he's doing what he can to get over that injury," Kohli said.
Australia meanwhile have opted to wait until the match day to see how the pitch looks and then make a decision on the playing XI.
India's 13-man shortlist for SCG Test: Virat Kohli (C), A Rahane (VC), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, C Pujara, H Vihari, R Pant, R Jadeja, K Yadav, R Ashwin, M Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav.

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