Melbourne: After a humiliating loss in the pink-ball Test, it will be all about coming back all guns blazing for the Indian unit when they take on Australia in the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground from Saturday.
If the humiliation of getting bundled out for 36 wasn’t enough, India was handed a confidence-denting blow when pacer Mohammad Shami was ruled out of the remaining series with a fractured arm. Not to forget the departure of regular skipper and batting mainstay Virat Kohli as he was granted paternity leave by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
After India dominated the first two days of the opening Test, it took a once in a lifetime spell of pace bowling from the duo of Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins to turn the table in Australia’s favour and that first session on the third afternoon combined with Joe Burns’ unbeaten fifty has given the hosts a huge confidence booster. The Indians on the other hand saw their chances of registering a win in the first game vanish in minutes.
Now India and Australia are dealing with contrasting feelings as they head into the Boxing Day Test. India, who are without the services of their highest run-scorer (Kohli), now faces a problem with an unstable batting order as none managed to stand up in the second innings and deliver against the Australian attack.
Prithvi Shaw looked out of place as he was dismissed in similar fashion — gap between bat and pad — in both the innings and while Shubman Gill is likely to be included in the playing XI for the second Test, it remains to be seen if he will replace Shaw or come in for Kohli.
The right-handed batsman had hit the nets on Wednesday while Shaw worked with the support staff. Meanwhile, Rishabh Pant too could find a place in the playing XI after first-choice wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha failed to deliver in the first Test. But it would be a little unfair to change the keeper for his failure with the bat. This is a call that stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane will have to make.
Ravichandran Ashwin, who stole the show in the first Test, has cemented his place and India may go ahead with a twin spin combination if all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja is fit to play.
Another question that has troubled the visitors is who will replace injured Shami. T Natarajan has impressed everyone with his bowling skills in the limited-over format but Mohammad Siraj and Navdeep Saini are likely to move in as they are part of the Test squad.
On the other hand, Australia will be riding on the back of a come-from-behind win in the first Test. While the win helped them maintain their 100 per cent win record in pink-ball Tests, Australia has emerged victorious seven times in their last ten outings in a Boxing Day Test and they would surely want to make that 8 in 11. Overall, the team from Down Under has won 25 matches from 39 games and pose a major threat to opponents when it comes to playing in Melbourne.
Steve Smith, who had always dreamt of batting in the Boxing Day Test, has a great record in Australian cricket’s biggest annual event. The right-handed batsman has smashed over 900 runs with three half-centuries. Smith relished batting in a Boxing Day Test and walking out to bat gives him “shivers down the spine”.
“Yeah, ten years it is quite hard to believe. Look it’s been since then, I have grown as a player over that time. My Boxing Day record is probably the best in Australia among all grounds. I like batting at MCG,” Smith said in a virtual press conference on Tuesday.
It will be interesting to see if he can continue striking gold in the Boxing Day Test or if the Indian bowlers manage to break the spree. Australia coach Justin Langer has said that he is looking at fielding the same XI for the second Test and that clearly means the Indian batsmen have their task cut out when it comes to handling the hosts’ in-form pacers.
The only silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud for India is the psychological advantage visitors enjoy over Australia. India had defeated Australia in the 2018 Boxing Day Test by 137 runs.
Team India Test squad: Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha (wicket-keeper), Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Mohd. Siraj.