India vs Australia: Teams gear up for Melbourne slugfest

The third India vs Australia Test, beginning at the MCG on Wednesday, is the pivotal game in the four-Test series.

India vs Australia: Teams gear up for Melbourne slugfest

Both teams will come out swinging at each other. After all, this is the Boxing Day Test.

The events at Perth, that witnessed an altercation between the two skippers, and the stump mic picking some stinging comments have ignited the Test series delicately balanced at 1-1.

The third Test, beginning at the MCG on Wednesday, is the pivotal game in the four-Test series. The two teams will be eyeing a victory on a pitch with a fair smattering of grass.

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And the Indians are willing to take risks. Both openers, M. Vijay and K.L. Rahul, have been dropped from the eleven, surprisingly announced on the eve of the Test by India.

The openers have struggled in the series, appeared short of confidence, and failed to convert their starts into big scores.

Mayank's long-awaited bow

Hanuma Vihari, promoted from the middle-order, and new boy Mayank Agarwal, will walk out together.

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Vihari has the attributes to counter the new ball. He is calm and patient, has a good idea of his off-stump, moves his feet and doesn’t go hard at the ball; he has the old fashioned Test-match bat speed.

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Vihari’s bat speed ensures that he waits for the ball and he does get into good positions.

And now, when the long-ignored but prolific Mayank finally gets an opportunity, it will be in the prestigious Boxing Day Test in front of a crowd of around 80,000. The atmosphere will be electric.

Vihari and Mayank’s skill and character will be tested by the incisive combination of Mitchell Starc [four short of 200 Test wickets], Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.  There will be speed, bounce, seam-movement and swing.

Jadeja's ability to hold one end up consistently will be crucial for skipper Kohli. PHOTO: AFP

 

The kookaburra ball does move around initially and the two openers have to prevent the Aussie pacemen from making the early inroads.

And Rohit Sharma, back after recovering from a muscle spasm, will surface in the middle-order. He has the shots but can he build a lasting edifice?

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With R. Ashwin still not fully fit, left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja comes in. Given the number of left-handers in the Aussie line-up, Ashwin would have been a more potent weapon but then Jadeja has the ability to hold one end up with his consistency and allow Virat Kohli to rotate the pacemen from the other end.

Kohli's impact

Kohli, who needs more support from his batsmen, has caught the imagination of the Aussie fans with his iridescent strokeplay. Not since Sachin Tendulkar has an Indian batsman made such an impact down under.

There already are Aussie plans in place to choke Kohli, cut off most of his scoring areas, leave the mid-wicket open and get him to play across and fall into the leg-before trap.

Cheteshwar Pujara and to a lesser extent, Ajinkya Rahane, have contributed, but the other batsmen need to step up and ease the load on the skipper.

Nathan Lyon (L) is the leading wicket-taker in the series with 16 wickets. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

 

The battle between the magnificent Nathan Lyon and the Indian batsmen will be fascinating. Lyon spins it in the air, gets the drift, turns the ball off the pitch, and varies his trajectory and points of release.

The Indians might pull out the sweep shot to knock Lyon off his length but such a ploy might be dangerous since the off-spinner employs overspin and the extra bounce can result in a top-edge.

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This pitch could increasingly help the spinners from day three and batting first might not be a bad idea.

The Aussies, their batting fragile, have brought in pace-bowling all-rounder Mitchell Marsh for the start-stop Peter Handscomb.

A much improved batsman, Mitchell’s seam gives his team more options.

Play starts at 5 a.m. (IST).

The teams

Indian XI: Virat Kohli (captain), Hanuma Vihari, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah.

Australia XI: Tim Paine (captain and wk), Aaron Finch, Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Pat Cummings, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.