Photo: BCCI; Story source: BCCI
From Anand Subramaniam & Rajneesh Gupta
Mumbai, 23 December 2014:
Third Test of the four-match series between India and Australia
December 26 to 31, 2014
Melbourne Cricket Ground
The last time India played a Test match at the MCG, it was all over in a matter of four days. Back in 2011, it was a case of putting Australia under pressure for the initial stages of the Test match and then giving away the advantage for the remainder of the days and ultimately handing over the hosts a win. Fast forward to 2014 and things haven’t changed. India were within sniffing distance of a historic win at Adelaide only to be undone by a batting collapse. But in the Adelaide loss, India had won a battle of their own and suddenly, here was a side that looked like giving the Australians a run for their money. They did have Australia under the pump at the Gabba reducing them to 247/6 at one stage. All it required were a few words with Mitchell Johnson to wrong the right they had done so far in the Test match. Australia went on to score 505, Johnson scored a quickfire 88 that changed the course of the Test match and returned with a fiery bowling performance to spell doom for the visitors. On Boxing Day at the ‘G’, India face an uphill task of registering a win to stay alive in the series.
A lot has happened over the week in the Indian camp. India have raised issues about worn-out practice pitches given to them at the Gabba and in the process getting injured (read – Shikhar Dhawan). The captain accepted of ‘unrest’ in the dressing room regarding the situation. But, India need to put all this behind and enter the MCG with a free mind. They have the potential to ask questions off the hosts which was evident in the first two Tests and it’s about time they clutch on to those crucial moments in a Test match. If India can hold themselves together and focus on the job in hand with a belief that they can turn things in their favour, then MCG might just be the start.
With Australia having registered an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series, Christmas celebrations are bound to get even more grand as the team gears up for the big day at the MCG. Playing a Boxing Day Test match is big and Australia will leave no stone unturned to put up yet another dominant show on Friday. For starters, David Warner who injured his left thumb in the second Test, is adamant that that the injury won’t keep him out of the third Test. Warner has gone on to say that he will do everything he can to be fit to play at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Leading a team at the MCG, walking out to bat, running with that red cherry in hand at the confines of the G – these are things that every cricketer yearns for; such is the magnanimity of the occasion – A Boxing Day Test. Australia have their own set of injury concerns as well after Shane Watson and Mitchell Starc hurt themselves while practicing at the nets. Mitchell Marsh suffered a hamstring injury at the Gabba which means Queensland batsman Joe Burns could make his Test debut at the MCG. Australia look dominant as ever and their new captain Steven Smith has led by example thus far with a win and century under his belt as Test captain for Australia. When Smith leads his side at the MCG, he will walk out with his collar up and look to seal the series.
At the Gabba, Varun Aaron looked far from impressive, Ishant Sharma was consistent in patches and Umesh Yadav showed the ability to ask questions off the Aussie batsmen. While Ishant Sharma knocked three in Australia’s run-chase in Brisbane, he was ably supported by Yadav who picked two. Also, Yadav will have fond memories of the MCG where he picked up seven wickets in the Boxing Day Test match in 2011. At that time he had a Zaheer Khan to partner and guide under whom he worked out his bowling plans to good effect. This time around he needs to work his plans out with the other two seamers to help India take 20 wickets. If the pacers can hunt as a pack with some good support from R Ashwin, India could have Australia in trouble.
It’s been eight Test innings since Shane Watson scored a half century. He averages just 18 in his four innings with a highest score of 33 this series. Watson has looked good in patches but has not been able to convert those starts into big scores. His highest Test score over the past year is an unbeaten 83 that he scored against England in the Ashes at the MCG. MCG might just be the place where Watson strikes form. He proved to be more than a handful with the ball in his hand bowling a tight line keeping the Indian batsmen under check. If his bat can do the talking, we all know how lethal an all-round Watson could prove to be.
India have won only one out of 13 Boxing Day Tests. They have suffered defeats on 10 occasions in such Tests (including five out of six against Australia).
R Ashwin needs 52 runs to complete allround double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets. If he does so in this Test, Ashwin will become the quickest Indian to race to this milestone (in 23 Tests) along with Vinoo Mankad.
India: M.S.Dhoni ( Captain), Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, K.L. Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Wriddhiman Saha, Naman Ojha, R. Ashwin, Karn Sharma, Axar Patel, Dhawal Kulkarni, Mohd. Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron.
Australia: David Warner, Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, Steven Smith (Captain), Shaun Marsh, Joe Burns, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Nathon Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle