The visitors are under pressure. The batting debacle at Adelaide is almost a week old, yet the sound of nick off the bat must be still ringing in the ears.
The third day of the first Test would be difficult to forget, although so much chatter must have happened inside the camp about forgetting and moving on. And it's not just this one sound that must be bothering but also the noise from outside. The criticism has been harsh. The memes are all around. The jokes can hurt.
What happened at the Adelaide Oval will never happen again, that it was an aberration, some say. Try telling that to India's top 7 when they go out in the first innings to bat. Test cricket is a mental sport and it tests you there first before it comes down to your skillsets.
That is why MCG is challenging. MCG is exciting. MCG is thrilling, even before the first ball has been bowled.
It will be India vs Australia and India vs their own demons in head.
Ajinkya Rahane, who has not looked his best in Tests in quite a while, will be captaining the side in absence of Virat Kohli. Not to forget, India are also without Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, and Mohammed Shami, who has been ruled out of the Test series courtesy of a broken elbow.
Add to that, their batting is all over the place. The batting is not just short on confidence but short on personnel and experience as well.
Without Kohli, they have nothing more than the resilience of Cheteshwar Pujara, promise in Shubman Gill, and hope that Ajinkya Rahane and Mayank Agarwal will click. These are not good ingredients to prepare for a Test win in Australia against the quality that we need not reiterate.
With Shami out, either Mohammed Siraj or Navdeep Saini will take his place as the third pacer, and for both of them, it will be a Test debut. Siraj has pace and swing, Saini can extract movement off the pitch. It will come down to minute details before the final call is taken. Looking at his ability to swing big, Siraj may just get the nod.
Jadeja, Saha in
India announced their playing XI on the eve of the MCG Test, and as expected, the team management has made a total of four changes from the side that took the field in Adelaide. After his two failed outings in the first Test, there were speculations of Vihari losing his place, especially with Ravindra Jadeja now fit and raring to go. The management, though, has persisted with Vihari, which means KL Rahul will sit out in Melbourne.
Jadeja has been batting and bowling in the nets, under the keen eyes of head coach Ravi Shastri. And PTI reported that he even gave a fitness Test on Thursday.
Jadeja gives much-needed balance to the side, with his all-round abilities. Also, with his addition, India become a better fielding unit, and in the series context, a much-needed boost is needed for visitors in the field after the horrific catching display in the first Test. His selection brings back the Ashwin-Jadeja combination for India and give Rahane five bowlers to attack the hosts.
— BCCI (@BCCI) December 23, 2020
One of the other changes could be Rishabh Pant taking over the wicket-keeping duties from Wriddhiman Saha. Saha underperformed with the bat in both the innings of the Test. Pant has not done much wrong in Tests so far for India and has, in fact, scored a century last time around he was in Australia. His is the aggression India would bank upon at a time when they need to break the jail. His naturally aggressive style of play gives variety to the batting.
— BCCI (@BCCI) December 25, 2020
Gill gets debut
Much debate took place before the start of the first Test regarding the opening slot. Between Shaw and Gill, the management went with the Mumbai batsman. His failures at Adelaide have put an end to the debate now as Shubman Gill will don his maiden Test cap tomorrow. With no KL Rahul in the playing XI, it is certain that the Punjab batsman will open the innings with Mayank Agarwal.
There will be no David Warner at MCG, Cricket Australia had informed on Wednesday (23 December). He is still not fully recovered and looking at the bio-secure protocols, has been kept outside the bubble along with Sean Abbott. A fit Warner would have definitely made the cut. However, now Langer has said there is no real need to change the XI.
"I would be a pretty courageous man to change the XI for this Test match after the last one," Langer said. "Unless something happens over the next few days, and they can happen in the world we live in, we'll go in with the same XI," said Langer.
Langer and Paine were troubled with the form of Joe Burns but with the opening batsman scoring a fifty in the second innings of the first Test, that headache has almost disappeared.
Steve Smith who scored a run in each innings will be looking to score big in the second Test. Like always, and especially in the absence of Warner, Australia's batting will revolve around him. Hosts can also take heart from the fact that Paine has runs under belt and the Man of the Match award must have done wonders to his confidence.
Finding the right lengths
India's pace attack will need to find the right length from the start. In the first Test, India's new-ball operators Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah started off slightly short and it was Mohammed Shami who gave them the idea of the right length, much fuller than Bumrah and Yadav. Australians made Indians play on the front foot with fuller lengths and that resulted in many nicks carrying to the slips, dropping short in the first innings but, tragically for India, carrying easily behind.
Australia Squad: Joe Burns, Matthew Wade, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Tim Paine (c & wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Marcus Harris, Moises Henriques, James Pattinson, Michael Neser, Mitchell Swepson
Probable Aus XI: Joe Burns, Matthew Wade, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Tim Paine (c & wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
India squad: Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (C), Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Shubman Gill, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav, Rishabh Pant, Navdeep Saini, KL Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja
Probable India XI: Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (C), Shubman Gill, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj
The Boxing Day Test will be played from 26 to 30 December and live broadcast will be on Sony Six and SonyLIV in India. The play will begin everyday at 5 am (IST).
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On the last day of the Sydney Test, Paine tried to unsettle Ravichandran Ashwin by sledging the Indian spinner and Gavaskar promptly termed it "unbefitting of national team captain" whose days as the man in charge seemed to be "numbered".
Stumps, Day 4. Rahane plays well to evade further damage to the India scorecard. Lyon tested him in the last over of the day with some loopy deliveries with bat-pad and slips in place. Pujara and Rahane will resume innings and India's fight from 98/2. They need 309 runs to win. To draw, they need to bat for three sessions. Not to forget, Jadeja will not bat and Pant still has some pain in his arm that dealt the blow in first innings. Huge task for India tomorrow, with Vihari not among runs and short on confidence. We will see you tomorrow at 3.30 am IST.
Rahane, Shastri, star batsman Rohit Sharma, pacer Shardul Thakur, and opener Prithvi Shaw landed in Mumbai, while Brisbane Test hero Rishabh Pant arrived in Delhi early this morning.