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
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
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