Most cricketers who have played at the HPCA ground in Dharamsala have been awed by the picturesque setting of the stadium. Located at the foothills of the Himalayas, Dharamsala gives a eye-catching view with the Dhauladhar range in the background. And just when you think it cannot get better, it does. For the past four years, the ground has hosted three ODIs and eight T20Is. But on Saturday, it will become 29th Test venue in India as they play Australia in the final Test of the four-match series.
The series is locked at 1-1 and both teams will like to win the debut Test in Dharamsala to win the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. While India have to win the Test, Australia can keep the trophy if they manage a draw or win.
But. India are facing a big question before the Test. Captain Virat Kohli is unsure of making to the playing XI after his shoulder injury while there is also a talk about assistance to pace bowlers in Dharamsala, which is located 1320 metres above sea level.
The fact that Dharamsala pitch is expected to assist the pacers, Australia are planning to play an additional pacer and drop left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe, the star of the first Test in Pune.
“We’ll have another look tomorrow (Saturday) and see what it (the pitch) looks like then but there’s a little bit of grass,” Australia captain Steve Smith said. “The groundsman thinks the first three days it won’t take much spin. He thinks it will have good pace and carry. It’s a bit different to what we were kind of expecting.”
Smith’s pre-match presser gives the idea that it won’t be a surprise if the third seamer Jackson Bird gets a look-in on Saturday, which will be his ninth Test.
Having made his debut in 2012, Bird had a decent outing against Sri Lanka, picking up for wickets in the match. But it was his second match in Sydney where he showed his class. Not known for his express pace, Bird bowled with accuracy and got seam movement and swing which troubled the batsmen.
A year before his Test debut, Bird had an exceptional Sheffield Shield season where he picked up 53 wickets at an average of 16.00 for Tasmania. He had made a switch from New South Wales to find a break into the national team.
But in 2013, Bird was dropped after one Ashes Test which forced him to put in the hard work again before he was recalled for the New Zealand in 2015 where he shone in second Test picking up a five-wicket haul to take Australia to victory.
Once again, Bird can make an impression on the selectors with his bowling in Dharamsala. If he gets a chance to play the final Test, Bird can utilise the conditions on offer. If the curator leaves the little grass on the pitch, that can also help the pacers generate movement off the pitch.
In the three Ranji Trophy games on this ground, out of the 99 wickets that have fell, 89 have been taking by pacers. And if Smith is aware of this stat, Bird may take a new flight.