The hype is real. The world’s number 1 test team India takes on the world’s number 5 ranked test team Australia in a battle for, well, pride really. It is important for these two teams, make no mistake about that. India has never won in Australia. Oh, they’ve won a test or two – 6 actually, including the win at the Adelaide Oval this season – but they’ve never won a test series. This is their 12th try – the first was way back in 1948 – and they have managed 3 drawn series, but no wins, with 8 lost series in amongst that.
In many ways this is similar to the 2000/01 series in India, where Australia, then the number 1 team by a long, long way, took on a lowly ranked India, and it looked like Australia would win, only that was a bit different, as that Australian team were a lot better than this Indian team, and arguably that Indian team were a lot worse than this Australian team. India’s success really boiled down to two players – Harbhajan Singh and VVS Laxman. Australia at least have 4 good bowlers, even if they don’t have a whole lot else.
Also, of note, is that Australia have won in India, before and since, albeit not very often. Few people noticed that Australia won in 2004/05 in India. Australia also won 3 of the first 4 test series held in India – the other one being a draw. India have won 8 of the past 10 series in India, though, with the exception of that 2004/05 series and a drawn series in 1986/87.
A series win of great importance.
With all of that in mind, this test series win, if it happens, is an even bigger deal than the 2000/01 series in India, the famous series where Australia won the first test easily and should have won the second test easily but for Steve Waugh enforcing the follow-on, a decision so awful that almost no captains after that have enforced the follow-on.
Before this, that decision used to be commonplace. VVS Laxman’s 281 to help India to win is viewed by many as the best innings of all time, though Cricinfo regards it as 8th best. Harbhajan Singh’s 32 wickets in 3 matches at an average of 17.03 – when the next best bowler took 3 wickets – is extraordinary, especially given that he wasn’t even a regular in the side before then – nor after then, really.
For Australia to win this test series they have to do less than what India did in 2000/01 – and India had to do a lot to win that one. For India to win, they have to do more. This test series, spoken so highly of as India’s best chance ever to win in Australia, is less likely to happen than for Australia to win in India in 2000/01. Less likely. And Australia lost that one.
At 1-1 after 2 tests, India don’t have to win in Melbourne, but they do at least have to have the test match be drawn and then win in Sydney. If Australia win in Melbourne, then the worst that can happen is that it will be a drawn test series, and Australia could yet win it 3-1. If Australia win in Melbourne then it will either be Australia’s 9th test series win in Australia out of 12 attempts or it will be the 4th drawn series in Australia. Either way, India can’t win the series.
MCG – The home of the draw?
The Melbourne Cricket Ground, for reference, has often led to drawn tests, especially of late. The test match held here last year, in the Ashes, didn’t even get to the 4th innings. Granted that it was almost an innings loss to Australia, but it still goes down as a “boring draw”. Most of the first class games here of late have been draws too, except for the one where Marcus Harris scored 250 not out, which was decided by an innings.
On top of that, there is a very good chance of a whole lot of rain, with days 2-5 inclusive having at minimum a lot of cloud cover if not a virtual guarantee of rain. Of course, we can never be certain that rain will definitely happen, as there is a fine line between black clouds covering the sky and actual rain falling, but it sounds like it is likely that it will be a draw.
India, in the days of their big batting units, would fancy their chances at the MCG, with the big grounds inviting ample runs, but nowadays they are down to 3 batsmen of note, and only 1 who is really anything to worry about. Mind you, that one batsman, Virat Kohli, is a rather large worry, albeit that in 3 of his 4 innings this test series so far he has been targeted to great success.
India have some significant selection woes, with both opening batsmen failing so badly that the selectors want to drop both, but their main replacement, Prithvi Shaw, has been flown home. They’ve been allowed to call in 2 replacements for 1 player, another example of extraordinary generosity from Cricket Australia towards their Indian counterparts, but we still don’t know who will open. Presumably Mayank Agarwal will, and it is then a choice of keeping one of the out of form openers, perhaps Murali Vijay, or playing Rohit Sharma or even Hanuma Vihari in to open alongside him, the other one slotting in at number 6.
The bowlers seem more settled, but who India play as their spin bowler is more of a question, with news coming in that Ravindra Jadeja was secretly injured the whole time. Perhaps it is time for Kuldeep Yadav to be given a shot. Perhaps even Hardik Pandya, who joined the squad, will play at number 6.
That would mean potentially as many as 3 new players coming in, with 4 positional changes, which are a lot of changes for a side sitting at 1-1. Australia are, yet again, going in unchanged.
Possible Indian side: Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant (wk), Kuldeep Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.
Improved Batting depth.
The good news is that, if that side is chosen, they will at least bat with some level of intensity down to number 8, with Kuldeep Yadav boasting a first class batting average of 24.88 and a first class century to boot. That Indian side would also feature 4 pace bowlers and 5 bowlers in total, but on a ground that will suit spin more than Perth, they will want more spin, not less.
While India will want confidence, they are lacking it.
At the end of the first ever test held at Perth Stadium, news emerged that Virat Kohli had engaged in some well-spoken sledging, referring to Tim Paine as a “stop-gap captain” in an amusing way, but, rather than embrace the positive news about their captain, the BCCI, in their infinite wisdom, chose to deny that it had ever happened, somehow unaware that it was seen as a good thing, not a bad thing.
While Tim Paine’s sledge to Virat Kohli via Murali Vijay, was symbolic of Australia getting their mojo back, Virat Kohli, at least via BCCI, denying theirs, was symbolic of India losing their way. India were always going to lose at Perth, but in that test they lost a lot more than the match – along the way, they lost their way.
Will Melbourne’s weather play a role?
The weather, if not the conditions, should ruin the MCG test, and that’s a good thing as far as India are concerned for if the weather holds, the scoring rate is quick enough and the team totals are low enough, then the expectation is that Australia will win, and with that win ruin all of India’s hopes of a test series win in Australia.
India will want to get their rain dance going again. Just like how their anti-rain dance in Adelaide kept the expected thunderstorms at bay, this time they will want them to come, so as to keep their hopes of winning this series alive.