When Virat Kohli announced his unavailability for the final three Border-Gavaskar Series matches, one could have expected it to be the biggest talking point of the series. Fast forward to three matches in, and the captain-on-leave is hardly in the frame of discussions. Such has been India's fight against Australia that the team has moved on from their captain's absence to put a credible show on display.
The bigger concern for the team is the spate of injuries that add drama to the final Test of the tour. Star all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja left the show right after setting it on fire; rearguard heroes R Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari are bruised, with the latter ruled out; and to add to the woes, bowling lynchpin Jasprit Bumrah reported niggles as well. Curiously, this leaves the Indian team deprived of its entire pace quartet from the previous tour of Australia.
With Vihari and Jadeja out, there are some tough decisions to be made. One of those would be to bring back one of the beleaguered and out-of-form openers, Mayank Agarwal or Prithvi Shaw, back into the mix. It will be hard to replace Jadeja in like-for-like manner, and India's decision here will be crucial.
Here is India's predicted playing XI for the final Border-Gavaskar Test.
Openers: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill
Of the four batsmen India have tried at the opening position, Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma have looked by far the most comfortable. Both registered a fifty each in the third game, and enjoyed steady fifty-run opening partnerships in both innings - a rarity for India overseas. Rohit's timing and class, combined with Gill's precise footwork and shot selection, should trouble the Australians in the final Test as well.
Through his Test career, Rohit has featured mostly in a middle-order position for India. However, his record of late as an opener is incredibly promising, and the team management will probably avoid tinkering with the openers. Mayank Agarwal looks set to return to the team, but given his technical flaws that were laid bare against the new ball, the Karnataka batsmen might slot into the middle-order instead.
Middle order: Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (c), Mayank Agarwal, Rishabh Pant (wk)
In the lead-up to the third Test, many voices questioned Cheteshwar Pujara's overseas contributions, barring his Man-of-the-Series performance on India's previous tour of Australia. His first-innings fifty also drew flak for being slow and taking the momentum away from India. However, in classic Pujara style, he stuck to his guns and played out over 200 balls in the all-important fourth innings to reassure India of his value to the team.
Ajinkya Rahane currently boasts of an unbeaten record as India Test captain. The middle-order batsman sparkled with a century and the winning runs in the second Test, although he missed out in the next game with two low-scoring outings. His shot-making will be crucial, although he now has two potentially attacking batsman in the form of Agarwal and Pant to allow him to play his natural game.
Mayank Agarwal's career is at the crossroads after a very impressive start and a strong home record - in the country where it started, a twin failure might also see it fade away. Shielded from facing the new ball, Mayank could use the opportunity to pile on some desperately needed runs.
Rishabh Pant was one of the biggest stories of the last game. An elbow injury did not seem to deter his strokeplay in a risk-filled, attacking 97, and India would hope he is fit enough to shoulder keeping responsibilities along with an increasingly vital role in the batting order.