The absence of Virat Kohli, the batting form of wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, and the collapse in Adelaide are big concerns, but probably the biggest is the injury to Mohammed Shami that has ruled him out of the series. How will India take 20 wickets now? How can they restrict Australia to a total that they can overcome with their tweaked batting line-up for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne?
Who is likely to replace Shami?
It could well be Ravindra Jadeja, the left-arm spinner. The pitch in Melbourne is not going to be quick; it won’t be sluggish either, but the lack of pace on it could well make India consider going in with two spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Jadeja. It’s the old cricketing logic of playing your best bowlers and in the absence of Shami, on a pitch like MCG, it could well come down to India trying to Indianise their composition and play Jadeja.
There is chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav as well, who had incidentally made his Test debut in 2017 under the captaincy of Ajinkya Rahane, who will again be standing in for Kohli for the rest of the series. For the last 18 months, though, Yadav’s stock has dipped. The concern was that he was a touch too slow, and was first put through a fitness regimen and efforts were made to get him to fizz the ball. Clearly, Yadav hasn’t completed the makeover process as well as the management would have liked, as seen in the fewer matches he has played in recent times. Adelaide’s batting implosion also buttresses the case for Jadeja, whose batting has undoubtedly stepped up recently.
Isn’t there a pace back-up for Shami?
Yes, Mohammed Siraj and Navdeep Saini are fit and available, and will come into contention if the management feel the pitch has some pace or can offer some seam movement. Saini started the tour with a torrid run in the first two ODIs but bounced back with a three-wicket haul in the day-night warm-up game in Sydney. Saini’s attributes are sharp pace, and his ability to extract prodigious bounce.
Siraj, on the other hand, is a skilled swing bowler who can move the red ball more than most in helpful conditions. If the team management decides to go with a pacer as replacement, Siraj could just get the nod for MCG and Saini would be more suitable for the pacier strip in Brisbane.
What are the changes one can expect in batting?
The trouble begins at the top with the openers, and in particular Prithvi Shaw. His technical flaws meant he survived just eight deliveries in Adelaide and is set to be replaced by his U-19 World Cup teammate Shubman Gill. The 21-year-old is yet to make his Test debut but has looked fairly assured during the limited-overs leg of the tour and even in the tour games.
The other vital change in the batting order would be KL Rahul coming in for Kohli. Rahul hasn’t sparkled in Tests in the recent past but those failures were as an opener, where he has been caught playing from the crease against the new ball. India would hope that he can replicate his limited-overs form at the MCG, the venue where he made his Test debut six seasons ago.
Will Saha hold his spot as the wicketkeeper?
It looks unlikely, given his twin failures —- scores of 9 and 4 —- in Adelaide. Saha is the best ’keeper in India, but his batting at home and abroad has not been up to scratch. Just to put things in perspective, Saha has gone 13 innings without registering a half-century in Tests. His glovework might be needed more in spin-friendly conditions at home and India are likely to boost their batting with Rishabh Pant. The Delhi wicketkeeper has the experience of playing Tests in Australia, and the thumping century in the warm-up game in Sydney might push his case further. Also, considering the “lack of intent” (to use Kohli’s words) in the second innings of Adelaide, Pant’s aggression might be what this team needs down the order.
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