I previously wrote a preview, but since then both Australia and India have named their teams, which were different to what I had predicted, and as such I am going to update my preview to suit.
India: Hanuma Vihari, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami
In my original preview, I had correctly predicted the openers but had picked Hardik Pandya instead of Rohit Sharma to bat at 6, while I had picked Kuldeep Yadav, not Ravindra Jadeja, to be the spin bowling option. Of note, in the 2nd test India tricked me by picking someone outside of their 12, so they may yet sneakily include one of them, or Ravi Ashwin even, but for the sake of argument I am going to assume that that is their actual team.
This team, compared to the one I suggested, has two much stronger batting options, but it significantly decreases their bowling ability, if nothing else than by removing one bowler in Hardik Pandya who can bowl at something close to test standard. Perhaps Hanuma Vihari’s wickets in Perth convinced the selectors that they didn’t need Pandya, or perhaps they were worried about fitness. Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja are carrying injuries, or at least were said to be, though that has been denied and confirmed a few times now, so who knows what is really going on, especially as Ravi Ashwin was claimed to have missed the 2nd test due to injury but then that was denied, then confirmed, then denied again. Oh dear.
Any way you look at it, though, this is a stronger batting line up than the one I was suggesting or the one that went to Perth, but it is a weaker bowling line up. While Jadeja might be good in India, he is horrible overseas, as is Ravi Ashwin. Jadeja has never played a test match in Australia, but the chances that he will do well are pretty slim and it basically means that India are essentially going in with just 3 bowlers, which might be 1, if not 2, less than they really want. While the extra batting is good if they want to draw, the chances of them taking 20 wickets are slim to none.
However, with India unlikely to win at Melbourne anyway, this change in team could indicate that they aim to draw the test, even if the rain does stay away. This team, with extra batting and less bowling, is all about the draw. That could end up being very good for India.
Australia’s team is the same as I had suggested with one very important change: Mitchell Marsh comes in for Peter Handscomb.
The Mitchell Marsh camp says that this is a good thing because it gives an extra bowling option, but the everyone else camp says this is a terrible move and however badly Handscomb was going, Mitchell Marsh shouldn’t be an option.
I have questioned why they had 2 players who were never going to play in their 14 in the first place, in Peter Siddle and Chris Tremain, when they could have instead picked 2 back-up batsmen, in perhaps Joe Burns and Matt Renshaw. What’s the point of picking 2 players who won’t play? The inclusion of the 2 extra batsmen would have put reasonable pressure on the likes of Handscomb and Mitchell Marsh, but instead now we have Mitchell Marsh in there without any kind of form, either domestic or at test level, and with an overall well below test level record.
Consider this: the Australian cricket public hated Shane Watson as a test player, yet Watson averaged more with the bat than with the ball. They also hate James Faulkner, who, at first class level, similarly averages more with the bat than the ball. Even Glenn Maxwell is hated and not considered to be test level, in spite of being a test level batsman and a half-decent bowler.
Mitchell Marsh averages 26 with the bat and 42 with the ball at test level, and 31 with the bat and 31 with the ball at first class level. The bare minimum standard for an all-rounder is better with the bat than the ball – not the same – and certainly not a gap of 16. How does that help anyone?
Of course, now that he is in the team, we hope that he will do well, but it seems like a bad strategy to me.
The good news is that the weather reports have been updated for the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and it now says:
“The week ahead will have mostly dry days although Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th are likely to see a significant amount of rain. The indicators are that Sunday 26th will have the most precipitation with an accumulation of around 14.0mm. On the whole winds are likely to be moderate.”
Now, I’m no meteorologist, but that tells me that we’ve got very little chance of having a full 5 days, with a good chance of rain delays on days 1, 2 and 3, and a good chance of the whole day being washed out on days 4 and 5.
With India dropping bowlers in favour of batsmen, it tells me that they aren’t looking to win this test – they are looking to not lose – and that means that the decision to play Mitchell Marsh might not be the worst, as we may well need that 5th bowler to try to break through the dogged number 8 batsman Ravindra Jadeja, whose bowling is likely to be ineffective if not completely useless.
Of course, if it doesn’t rain, and somehow it avoids the ground, and the weather reports are wrong – and Shane Warne is right for a change – then all predictions are that Australia will win – so long as there is a result.
So the teams don’t really make all that big a difference, not really.
Not even India think they are likely to win.
As for Australians, they are as certain of victory as they can be in a test where Mitchell Marsh is playing.