Australia v India: The story of the series so far and why the fourth-Test decider on BT Sport is a must-watch

Everything you need to know about the fourth and final Test between Australia and India as the battle for the Border-Gavaskar trophy goes down to the wire.

By Callum Davis Published: 9 February 2021 - 9.21am

Australia versus India has always been a fierce rivalry that toes the line between sporting competition and outright animosity, but this year's installment has been like no other.

From record-breaking batting collapses to sledging scandals, the first three Tests have delivered high-octane drama at every turn and all eyes will now be on Brisbane for what is sure to be a thrilling finale.

The winner of the four-match Test series will be decided at the Gabba on January 15 - and BT Sport is the only place to watch live coverage of every ball. 

Here we reflect on a series for the ages and look ahead to what is shaping up to be an unmissable winner-takes-all game, with all the information you need on how to watch.

India's great escape

India arrived in Australia hoping to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy they won back in 2018, when Virat Kohli's side made history by becoming the first Indian Test side to win a series Down Under.

Their defence started in nightmare fashion as they collapsed to 36 all out, India's lowest ever Test score, during an eight-wicket defeat to Australia inside three days of the day-night Test in Adelaide.  

A week later the tourists bounced back, soldiering on without their talismanic captain and batsman Kohli, who flew back India to attend the birth of his child, to record an eight-wicket victory in the second Test at Melbourne.

It set up the prospect of a pivotal third Test in Sydney with the series deadlocked at 1-1.

Half centuries from debutants Will Pucovski and Cameron Green, alongside a timely Steve Smith ton, helped put the hosts in control going into the fifth and final day.

Chasing an unlikely total of 407 to win, India resumed day five on 98-2, staring down the barrel of Test defeat and going 2-1 behind in the series.

But on a remarkable day of drama, the tourists defied the odds to deny the hosts victory and hang on for an unlikely draw.

India responded to the early loss of captain Ajinkya Rahane in extraordinary fashion.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant, who was nursing an elbow injury, countered with a scintillating 97 and Cheteshwar Pujara ground out 77, to give the tourists genuine hope of pulling off the third-highest fourth-innings chase in Test history.

Australia once again looked the more likely to claim victory when both fell before tea, but they couldn’t breach the resolute defence of Hanuma Vihari and Ravichandran Ashwin, who battled superbly to survive 256 balls and steer India to 334-5 at the close.

It was herculean effort from Ashwin, who could "not stand up straight" on the morning of day five, according to his wife.

The spinner, who has four Test centuries to his name, was seen standing and stretching in the dressing room balcony throughout the afternoon before coming out to bat.

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The fact that India - severely depleted by injuries and absences - were able to defy a world-class Australian attack to bat out three sessions and keep the series tied at 1-1, will go down as one of the great rearguard actions and another blot on Tim Paine's copy book as captain.

The Tasmanian has endured a rollercoaster tenure since replacing Steve Smith in the fallout from the 2018 ball-tampering controversy that rocked Australian cricket, but it hit rock bottom in Sydney.

The 36-year-old dropped three catches on the final day as the hosts chased the eight wickets required to seal victory.

"We were pretty confident in forcing victory with our attack. We created enough chances all day so it's a tough one to swallow, especially for me," he said.

"I'll cop the blame for that, move on and look forward to Brisbane," he added. "It was a wholehearted effort from the boys and things just didn't go our way."

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Controversy rears its head again

While the enthralling finale produced some captivating moments of cricket, the third Test will also be remembered for a series of controversies that threaten to define the series.

On day three, India made an official complaint claiming that bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj were the subjects of racist abuse from six members of the SSG crowd.

The party were ejected from the ground and Cricket Australia have begun an investigation, but the incident was only the start of what quickly became a bad-blooded Test match.

Earlier in the day, the stump camera caught Steve Smith scraping away Rishabh Pant's guard marks with his studs.

But it was the conduct of Smith's successor that has dominated all the column inches in the wake of day five. 

Having been struck on the body five times during his defiant 139-ball innings, Ashwin was treated to another Australia speciality as Paine proceeded to employ the 'mental disintegration' approach from behind the stumps.

In an exchange which twice threatened to boil over, Ashwin and Paine traded barbs between balls, in a tense stand-off that was captured by the stump microphone.

The Australian's outburst came after he was fined 15 per cent of his match fee for dissent, when he swore at umpire Paul Wilson asking for some “f***ing consistency” earlier in the Test.

Paine has done a commendable job leading Australia’s culture revolution after the cheating scandal in South Africa but his reputation took a hit in Sydney.

After the game Paine issued an apology for his behaviour, saying: “My leadership wasn’t good enough. I let the pressure of the game get to me."

He continued: "I’ve had a really poor game as a leader. Yesterday I fell short of my expectations and my team’s standards. I want to apologise.”

The Tasmanian also defended his star batsman Smith, insisting there was nothing sinister in his behaviour at the crease.

"He [Smith] is disappointed with the way it has come across," Paine said.

"That is something he does every single game, five or six times per day. He likes to walk up to where he bats and visualise where he is going to play.

"He was certainly not changing a guard. I imagine if he was, the India players would have kicked up a bit of a stink at the time."

Winner takes all at the Gabba

As the dust settles, many are predicting another titanic battle when this thrilling series reaches its conclusion later this week.

As the two teams head north to Brisbane and the Gabba, all the pressure will be on Australia as the hosts bid to avoid a home series defeat to India for just the second time in their history.

Paine will inevitably shoulder the burden of that scrutiny, and for good reason. Lose at the Gabba, and his win-loss record will be the worst of any Australia captain since Kim Hughes.

Australia's woes could be compounded further if they're made to do without Will Pucovski after the opener injured his shoulder diving in the field on day five.

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The 22-year-old impressed on his Test debut with a maiden fifty in the first innings and his absence would leave a big hole at the top of the order.

Selectors could be forced to turn to out-of-form opener Joe Burns to partner David Warner.

India too have their own injury crisis to worry about. All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja has been ruled out of the Brisbane finale, adding to an ever-growing casualty list that includes KL Rahul, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma.

The match has all the trappings of a do-or-die Test for Paine and his leadership, with a home Ashes series against England just under 12 months away.

The Aussies haven’t lost at the Gabba since 1988 and will be favourites to claim the series win against a depleted Indian side, but the tourists have proved beyond any doubt that they are capable of retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.  

Can India defy the odds to end a memorable tour on a high? Tune in to BT Sport 2 HD from 14 January at 11.45pm to watch the drama unfold.