India v Australia, Boxing Day Test: Changes Indian cricket team might need for a comeback in Melbourne
India and Australia will meet in the second Test match on Boxing Day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Despite the new restrictions coming in for the COVID-19 pandemic, this still remains the Australian summer’s biggest sporting affair. After a dramatic win in the Day-Night Test, the home team would be confident and keep all the Indian camp issues in mind; the hosts should look for a 4-0 scoreline.
What happened in Adelaide?
The Indians were in a confident mood at the end of day two in the Adelaide Test, thanks to their 53-run lead first innings. But that half an hour on Saturday morning changed all the equations as India slumped to their lowest ever Test score in their 88 years history of playing Test match cricket. More than the 8-wicket loss, this shambolic batting collapse and their terrible catching on day two will have a long strain on the players and the fans alike.
They will now lose their captain Virat Kohli, who is coming back home for well-earned paternity leave to accompany Anushka Sharma during their first child’s birth. India also lost their second-best fast bowler as Mohammed Shami broke his wrist during the second innings at Adelaide. With quite a few failures in the batting line up and these forced changes, India makes as many as five changes in their first eleven for the Boxing Day Test match.
Batting scenario: Challenges in opening, middle-order, keeping slot
Already there was an ongoing debate regarding Mayank Agarwal’s partner before the first Test. Despite mediocre performance in the practice match, India trusted their young opener, Prithvi Shaw. However, Shaw survived only six balls combining two innings, scored just four runs, and got bowled off Pat Cummins in identical fashion in both innings.
There is a significant question mark on his technique and the gap he maintains between the bat and the pad. It looks like time is now up for Shaw, and he needs to go back to domestic cricket to tighten his technique and get his form back.
There are two options India can opt for to replace Shaw. They can either bring KL Rahul to open or send Shubman Gill at the top in his debut Test. Rahul is the more experienced one with 36 Test matches against his name. 54 out of his 60 Test innings came at the opening slot.
However, Rahul averages only 20.77 in Australia despite having a Test century in that country. Even in the last series, he looked troubled against the new ball. Gill is one of the most highly rated Indian youngsters who maintains a first-class average of 68.78 batting at both top and middle order.
During the two practice matches, Gill has batted in both opening and number three position. It would be interesting to see whether India gives the responsibility to the debutant or go with more Tested option in Rahul, who was also in reasonable form during the limited over games in the tour.
Whoever between Rahul and Gill will not open would join Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane in the middle order. Rahane would be the new Indian captain in Kohli’s absence and will have many things in his mind. He is yet to score a Test fifty in 2020 and would need to improve and control the middle order if he wants his team to make a strong comeback.
Again, lots of debate is ongoing regarding India’s number six and seven position. India went with Hanuma Vihari and Wriddhiman Saha in the first Test, and both can now face potential axe in the Melbourne Test match. Vihari, who made his India debut during India’s last tour Down Under, has played 10 Tests in total.
Although he maintains an average of just 33.88, 9 of his 10 Tests came overseas, and he generally looks steady in the crease. However, if Ravindra Jadeja is fit, he can provide India an all-around option. Jadeja has significantly improved his batting in the last 18 months and now maintains a Test average of 35. His left-arm spin also can be lethal, and over the years, he has a good record against Australia, maintaining a bowling average around 19.
The other big debate was regarding India’s wicket-keeper slot as the Saha-Pant comparison went on. Saha is a more accomplished keeper, whereas Pant is one of India’s best attacking bats and performed admirably during India’s last tour, including a brilliant century in the Sydney Test.
Pant also had a stroke-full hundred in the practice match and now in prime position to replace Saha, who has a pretty unforgettable match at Adelaide. This will also provide a better batting line up to India, keeping in mind the bowlers’ inability to stick around with the bat.
Bowling scenario: The possible replacement of Mohammed Shami
Indian bowlers did not do many wrongs at Adelaide. Moreover, if they would get the proper support from their fielders, they could get a much bigger lead for their team. Jasprit Bumrah looked near his best and maintained the pressure. Umesh Yadav provided great support to Bumrah and Shami and bowled better than expected due to his earlier performances. Now Yadav will be the second-best bowler in the squad, and how he can carry this responsibility will have a telling impact on India’s performance.
Ravichandran Ashwin was a revelation for India in the Adelaide Test. After playing only one Test match in New Zealand, he bowled more attacking in the first Test and finished with his best-ever bowling innings performance in Australia. The way he controlled and deceived Steve Smith for a 29-ball 1 was one of the key highlights of India’s forgettable Test match.
India has to do a forced change to bring the third seamer in Shami’s absence. The options for them are Navdeep Saini, and Mohammed Siraj, both of them are yet to make their Test match debut. Siraj is generally considered a stronger bowler in the red ball cricket and has better first-class numbers than Saini. He has also played for India-A in quite a few matches and also performed well in the practice match. However, Saini has played 17 limited-overs matches for India compared to the 4 Siraj played, and that could be a deciding factor favouring Saini.
Full Indian squad for Test series in Australia
Virat Kohli (C), Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vc), Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Rishabh Pant (wk), Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandra Ashwin, Mohammed Siraj
Potential India first XI for Melbourne Test
Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, KL Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane (C), Rishabh Pant (WK), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandra Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj.