India vs Australia, 4th Test Day 1: Smith-Labuschagne hold guard after openers fall cheaply; Oz 65/2 at lunch

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For India, their star bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin have both been ruled out of the series-deciding fourth Test as the tourists’ injury toll from their tour of Australia continues to mount.

The losses of Bumrah (abdominal) and Ashwin (back) are among four enforced changes to the Indian side for the Gabba Test with Ravindra Jadeja (thumb) and third Test hero Hanuma Vihari (hamstring) also ruled out.

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Left-arm pacer Thangarasu Natarajan and off-spinning all-rounder Washington Sundar have both been handed their debuts, while Mayank Agarwal – dropped after the opening two Tests – returns to the side in the middle order in place of Vihari. Paceman Shardul Thakur also comes in for just his second Test match.

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Australia yesterday confirmed one change to their XI, with Will Pucovski (shoulder) ruled out and replaced at the top of the order by his Victorian teammate, Marcus Harris.

Bowling in the first session of the day’s play India managed to pick up the wickets of Aussie openers and the hosts reached 65/2 in 27 overs. The new opening pair of David Warner (1) and Marcus Harris (5) for Australia didn’t work as they were dismissed cheaply in the first session by Mohd Siraj and Shardul Thakur respectively. But Steve Smith (30*) and Marnus Labuschagne (19*) held guard later on and stitched a partnership of 48 runs between them.

India have been so ravaged by injury on this tour that a side featuring all their injured players could well challenge some of the best teams in the world.

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In addition to Bumrah, pacemen Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav have been ruled out of the series (Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were unavailable for the tour due to injury) while KL Rahul joined Ashwin, Vihari and Jadeja in also being injured in recent weeks.

That’s not to mention the absence of regular skipper Virat Kohli (paternity leave) while left-hander Rishabh Pant (arm) will play at the Gabba despite being far from 100 per cent fit during the Sydney Test.

India have picked five debutants in this series with Natarajan and Sundar today following the first Test caps of Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini and Shubman Gill.

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They have now used 20 different players in this series, the first time they’ve called on that many in a single Test campaign in 60 years.

Their five-man bowling attack of Natarajan, Sundar, Thakur, Siraj and Saini have a combined Test experience of just four matches.

Australia have also had some injury concerns this summer, the latest being Pucovski, who failed a fitness Test on his shoulder yesterday having missed the opening two Tests of the series due to concussion.

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Pucovski, who made his debut in Sydney last week, injured his right shoulder while fielding on the final day of the match at the SCG.

He didn’t train at the Gabba on Wednesday and had a short hit in the indoor nets yesterday, but did not take part in fielding drills with his teammates.

Harris, who played the most recent of his nine Tests in the 2019 Ashes, played all four Tests of India’s tour of Australia two summers ago, top-scoring with 79 at the SCG.

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The left-hander had an Ashes campaign to forget against England’s star seam bowlers and has a Test batting average of 24.06.

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But after a middling domestic campaign last season, he returned to his best in the Marsh Sheffield Shield for Victoria, partnering Pucovski in a record-breaking partnership against South Australia and scoring 355 runs in two games, with a top score of 239.

With the series locked at 1-all, Australia will be hoping their imposing record at the Gabba – where they haven’t lost since 1988 – can guide them to victory that will see them win the Border-Gavaskar Trophy for the first time since 2014-15.

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Playing XIs:

Australia XI: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Cameron Green, Tim Paine (c & wk), Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood

India XI: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (c), Mayank Agarwal, Rishabh Pant (wk), Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini, Mohammed Siraj, T Natarajan

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