Boxing Day Test: Ashwin, Mayank Agarwal toil at nets

India off-spinner R. Ashwin showed no signs of injury as Virat Kohli’s side trained on the practice pitches outside the MCG on Monday.

India off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin tosses the ball up during a training session in Melbourne on Monday.   -  AFP

 

The tension was palpable as the Indians, ahead of the big game coming up here after Christmas, trained with intensity on the practice pitches outside that grand theatre — the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The Boxing Day Test, beginning December 26, is a massive occasion with history, cultural significance, and tales of epic performances.

The series is on a knife-edge at 1-1 with two Tests remaining. And there is a lot at stake on a pitch with a layer of grass.

If the Australians win here, India’s bid for a first ever Test series triumph Down Under will go up in smoke.

It was a scorching Monday here and the cricketing temperatures had also risen after the Virat Kohli - Tim Paine skirmish in Perth.

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The Australian media appears to have lapped up Paine after the incident. He is now being called “Tiger Tim” for looking into Kohli’s eyes. After Perth, this series, clearly, is a different beast.

The pitch for the Test, prepared by Matt Page, the same man who produced the lively surface at Perth, will also be under the radar.

The previous Test played at the MCG, an Ashes encounter last year, ended in a boring draw and the ICC match referee deemed the surface ‘poor’ in his report.

Page is confident of a result in this Boxing Day Test. The pitch would not be a “flyer” such as the one at Perth, but it would assist the pacers and with the top soil breaking, it can lend assistance to spinners in the later stages.

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At the nets, Ravichandran Ashwin showed no signs of injury. He bowled for a long period. If Ashwin’s body doesn’t hold up on the morning of the match then Ravindra Jadeja, who too bowled a sizable spell at the nets, will step in.

Jadeja’s presence in the squad for the first two Tests when he was carrying a shoulder injury raises disturbing questions.

During times when fitness is given so much weightage that in-form players, picked in the squad, are eventually left out because they failed the Yo-Yo Test, it’s intriguing how an injured Jadeja made the cut.

 

The Indians desperately need runs and starts from the openers. K.L. Rahul and Mayank Agarwal had lengthy session at the nets after which M. Vijay came in.

Vijay looked good in the second innings of the Perth Test but has been unable to put together meaningful scores.

Rahul’s confidence appears to have gone for a toss as well.

India could retain one of the two for the Melbourne Test — Kohli will take the final call — and might promote Hanuma Vihari, who has shown composure and technical ability against the moving ball.

Rohit Sharma, who missed the second Test because of a muscle spasm, is expected to return to the eleven. The team management believes Rohit can lend momentum to the innings in the lower middle-order.

The Australians, soaking in the Christmas spirit, are positive. Pace bowling all-rounder Mitchell Marsh could come in for Peter Handscomb.

Mitchell is a much improved batsman and Australia might need an additional bowler to share the load.