The Test series between India and Australia could not have been more evenly poised, both in terms of the scoreline, and how both set of units might be feeling about themselves. The hosts are on a high after making an emphatic comeback into the series. But Virat Kohli and his men will not be feeling too bad. The two remaining venues, Melbourne and Sydney, could well provide surfaces to the liking of the visitors and with several key members regaining fitness at a crucial juncture, India are ready to mount a challenge to win their maiden series down under.
For that to happen, Kohli and the team management need to do something that they haven’t managed to do so far. Select the right playing XI. Here is what we feel is the best XI for India going into the crucial third Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
For several young Indian openers, a tour to Australia has often brought about an early end to their career. But a good performance in the Aussie backyard goes a long way in providing a huge fillip to several careers too, take for instance the long rope KL Rahul has been given. Mayank Agarwal is coming into the Indian team set-up at a time when no on expects miracles because the display of Indian openers outside the sub-continent has been pathetic to say the least. So, pressure is at its lowest and this is a great opportunity for a youngster, who has waited long for this moment, to come in and play some fearless cricket.
Yes, he is perhaps the best Indian batsman suited to play Test cricket and he has tasted enormous success at number 3, so why tinker with his position. But Cheteshwar Pujara has often come out to bat in the first five overs of a Test and that is as good as opening the batting for the team. Remember when Pujara was making a comeback into the Test team and was asked to open in Sri Lanka, he powered his way to a match-winning century. Opening the batting in Australia is a different ball game but who better to opt for than the man who can blunt any bowling attack on his day.
The Andhra batsman displayed guts and good application during two handy knocks down the order in Perth and he should be given a go in the top order. Vihari bats regularly in the top order in domestic cricket and has the necessary acumen to tackle the new ball.
The Indian captain is one century away from equalling Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 12 centuries in a calendar year and no one else knows how to stamp his class on a big occasion like Virat Kohli. His record in Melbourne isn’t as good as it is in some other venues and we expect the Indian captain to continue his good form with a power packed showing at number 4 for his team.
The Indian vice-captain has shown flashes of brilliance but he needs to play a knock of substance to help the team. Rahane has been guilty of throwing it away while being set on several occasions in the past and the time and place is just right for him to make a healthy contribution in the middle order.
The wicket-keeper batsman should be brought up a slot to accommodate the all-rounders. Pant has the necessary ability to bat in the heart of the middle order and he must use this opportunity to play a big innings. His batting style ensures he will get out time to time while looking to push the agenda. If Pant decides to put his instincts on hold for a bit, he could play big knocks for India.
The whole of India expects the off spinner to be back in shape for this crucial encounter as he could be the answer to Australia’s Nathan Lyon. Ashwin played a crucial role in India’s victory in the first Test in Adelaide and he could be the game changer in Melbourne. Ashwin’s ability as a more than capable bat lower down the order was missed at Perth.
The left-arm spinner is a maverick and given the nature of the Australian surfaces so far, he could be an asset with the ball for Virat Kohli. His ability to bowl long and economical spells can also help in building pressure from one end. Add to that his live wire fielding skills and Jadeja is a captain’s delight. Being a genuine all-rounder, Jadeja will also provide much needed meat to India’s lower order.
Shami was exceptional in Perth and he needs to be at his best at the MCG too. The problem with Shami often has been when he is not firing on all cylinders. His inability to control things when not bowling at his best hurts the team and the experienced pacer needs to work on that front.
The old warhorse has been on the money for the team in both the Test matches so far and Virat Kohli will expect the fellow Delhi boy to shoulder the burden of leading the pace attack yet again. Not to forget, need to get rid of the tail faster.
Jasprit Bumrah has been impeccable with his line and length but hasn’t got his due in terms of the number of wickets he has picked up so far. Needs to take the ball away from the right from a straighter angle to increase his chances of finding the outside edge more, perhaps.