Dharamsala: Indian captain Virat Kohli was rendered a highly doubtful starter for the fourth and final cricket Test against Australia, a scenario that has put the hosts under immense pressure on the eve of the decider of the bitterly fought series.
With the high-voltage rubber locked at 1-1, things couldn't have got worse for India as their captain admitted that he is not hundred percent fit going into the match, starting here on Saturday, with a threat of "aggravating the injury in the field" looming.
The pre-match statement was kind of a giveaway that Kohli's chances of playing are dim in a match where his presence as a leader is required the most. While Kohli the batsman had a nightmare of a series, the absence of a quality batsman like him can prove to be a game-changer unless his replacement Shreyas Iyer fires big time.
Kohli did bat at the nets today but admitted that a call can only be taken by physio Patrick Farhart in the evening.
The India camp probably doesn't want to give away any psychological advantage to the opposition ahead of the decider. Perhaps that was also the reason that the skipper, even though doubtful, came for the mandatory pre-match media conference.
Asked how he felt at the nets, Kohli said: "It's very different from competition, that's one thing. Something that I experienced in Ranchi is that when you have reactive movements, the main magnitude of your injury comes out.
"Those are the things that we have to keep in mind. The physio wants to give it a bit more time till I can test myself and probably we will take a call later tonight or tomorrow before the game. We will have to give it that much time more to make a call with the physiotherapist."
When he was asked a more direct question about the element of risk involved, Kohli said: "The physio can explain better. I don't know the magnitude of the risk. All I know is that if I go through fitness test, I will take the field."
The Indian captain's replacement, Iyer, arrived in the morning and joined the training late. Iyer had a net session that was closely monitored by coach Anil Kumble and Kohli, who also had a chat with the Mumbai youngster.
An aggressive batsman with all the strokes in his repertoire, Iyer's penchant for playing the cut and pull makes him a good choice for Dharamsala where there would be pace and bounce.
In the event of Kohli missing out, Ajinkya Rahane would lead the team.
Iyer's 200 hundred in the warm-up game against Australia would give him confidence even though Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood did not play that game.
Gone are those days when one Test would make or break India careers, and a gutsy performance from Iyer would certainly put a stamp on his temperament as the talent part is well documented.
Kohli's injury has added to the spice in one of the most enticing series of recent times with the fitting finale taking place on the lap of the scenic Dhauladhar ranges.
It has been one hell of a series that has not been played in the best of spirits. The on-field skirmishes spilled over, creating bitter acrimony between the two sides. Even the fourth estate, especially the ones from Down Under became a party, adding to all the drama.
In the existing backdrop, the Test promises to have every single ingredient that a cricket crazy Indian would want. Not an inch will be given by either of the sides even though Australia can be deemed favourites going into the game.
Managing to eke out a draw from the most adverse circumstances must have given Steve Smith and his boys immense amount of self belief that they have the requisite ability to salvage the team from any situation.
Peter Handscomb has shown that he has the technique, and more importantly, a big heart to thrive in top-flight professional sport.
But tomorrow will be a different day and different occasion. The hosts know it too well that they are now not left with any option but to go for the jugular.
For that to happen, someone like a KL Rahul has to promise himself that he would convert a bright start into an even brighter three-figure mark. Karun Nair needs to forget that he had scored a triple hundred only two months back.
Cheteshwar Pujara once again needs to grind the opposition out while Murali Vijay would need to show monk-like calmness in pressure situation. Rahane, in full flow, is a delight to watch but in case Kohli is absent, he will have to be the leader in his own way.
He may not be an enforcer but having played enough under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Rahane would like to believe that every captain has his own distinct style. He can be 'Rahane 1' rather than being 'Kohli 2.0'.
However, the bowling department will remain a cause for concern as Ishant Sharma's lack of wickets have hurt India badly. The 'good but unlucky' bowler tag has stopped cutting ice and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, a good swing bowler and a competent lower-order batsman, could get a look-in.
For Australia, a draw would mean moral victory but a win will be huge, possibly as big as an Ashes triumph.