The Border-Gavaskar Trophy moves to Melbourne with the series locked at 1-1. After securing a hard-fought win at the Adelaide Oval, India failed to ride the momentum at Perth. Lose in Melbourne, the Border Gavaskar trophy could still be retained at the SCG, India's 12-match overseas sojourn in 2018 will end without an overseas series win; something that would define Virat Kohli's legacy.
So, what can India do to turn the tide going into the Boxing Day Test at the MCG- a ground where this team back in 2014 salvaged a hard-fought draw after being 0-2 down in the 4-match series.
India was outplayed at Perth. Australia's top-order and their tail were comfortably better than India's- the former helped by Australia's imperious new ball bowling-particularly on the first morning where the lack of pace from the seamers converted the full-length into floaty half volleys allowing Finch and Harris to accumulate 112 runs on a spiteful pitch, something from which they could never recover, considering the fragility of their own opening combinations.
For a side that is blessed with one of the finest middle-order in the world, India's opening pair is a gaping weakness. In the year 2018, only Windies [20.84] and Bangladesh [19.33] average more than India's openers. KL Rahul's fragility against the full-length delivery- especially the inswinger has been exposed to the hit during the course of 2018. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Karnataka batsman has obvious technical deficiencies against seam bowling, and it would be prudent that he is left out of the playing 11.
With Prithvi Shaw ruled out of the series, Mayank Agarwal should make his debut at the MCG. Now, the question remains who should partner Agarwal at the top of the order- Rahul, Vijay or neither of them? KL Rahul's dismissal in the second innings at Perth was a reflection of the seeds of doubt that has engulfed the Karnataka batsman.
That leaves us with Murali Vijay. Even though the Tamil Nadu batsmen showed a glimpse of his former self during the second innings at Perth where he left more balls outside the off-stump but his dismissal where he went for an ambitious drive off Nathan Lyon, considering India had just lost Kohli and the presence of black patches on the surface, left a lot to be desired.
If Vijay is also left out, it can be a good option for India to try Pujara as an opener alongside Agarwal. Pujara averages 116 in six innings he has played as an opener which includes his match-winning hundred on a spiteful pitch at Colombo back in 2015.
Another option that India can try is slotting in Hanuma Vihari at the top of the order. There have been numerous instances in Indian cricket where a middle-order batsman has been promoted to the top of the order- the most obvious example being Virender Sehwag. Vihari hasn't yet set the stage on fire in Test cricket but the Andhra batsman has shown enough tenacity for him to be tried as an opener.
Yet as well as being out-played at Perth, India's defeat also appears to be in direct correlation with the yet another selection gaffe by the think-tank; a recurring trend in 2018. The clearest reflection that India got it wrong with their reading of the conditions was Nathan Lyon's Player-of-the-Match performance [8-106] compared to his Indian counterpart in Umesh Yadav [2-139], who leaked runs at more than 4 rpo in a low scoring encounter, vindicated the error that the management had made while summing up the conditions.
Playing four seamers also meant India had a long tail- four potential No.11, who have averaged 5.25 this series as compared to 21.00 by their Aussie counterparts, and taking into account the inability of the Indians to clean up the tail- Indian bowlers have conceded at least 75 runs to the opposition's lower-order in every Test this year, the difference accentuates massively.
Slotting either Vihari or Pujara at the top of the order will give Kohli a chance to play Hardik Pandya as the fourth seamer alongside a frontline spinner in Ashwin [if fit]/ Jadeja to give the batting line-up a much-needed depth but again the key tenet remains reading the conditions. The MCG, after a damp squib last year could spring in a few surprises, which makes reading the conditions and zeroing on the right playing combination.
Winning in foreign conditions is tough- and India has made it even harder thanks to their howlers off the field. The MCG Test offers them another chance to set the record straight to ensure that their shortcomings off the field don't obscure their obvious brilliance on it.
India Predicted XI
Agarwal, Vihari, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Rohit, Pant, Jadeja, Shami, Bumrah, Ishant