Melbourne Cricket Ground
The Australians, without playing their best cricket, are up 2-0 in a series more competitive than expected. The Indians are yet to learn their lessons, but chances are that they could win the big moments at the MCG on Boxing Day.
With all the injuries though, the teams look evenly matched. Clarke is out of the series, Mitchell Marsh is struggling, Jadeja is ruled out of the series, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar is out of the series and Warner has a finger injury.
Somehow, Dhoni’s men always find a way to lose in 4 days. They will face the biggest crowd this side of Eden Gardens over 5 days, and Dhoni could be playing his penultimate match as Captain of the test team. India have won just 2 tests out of 24 abroad since becoming World Champions in 2011 (West Indies, England), and have lost (17) far more than they’ve drawn (5). Duncan Fletcher, the hidden face behind this disaster, has lost 15 out of his 16 tests as coach of England and India in Australia. Clearly, even Shastri’s arrival hasn’t changed things yet, though India looks to be getting closer to that solitary feel-good win. For that, Kohli must keep his ego aside and stop fighting with Dhawan. Pujara needs to find form quickly, and signs are that Dhoni’s favorite Raina will replace Rohit at no. 6 in Melbourne. A prolonged net session for Raina meant that Mr. 264, who hasn’t lived up to his potential in tests, could sit out the last two tests. KL Rahul is getting some attention in the nets too, and if he debuts as an opener in place of Dhawan, it will be a step forward for the team. With Vijay irregular at practice sessions, Rahul could be in with a fair chance.
Dhoni isn’t equipped with the best bowlers for conditions, but Melbourne is a place where he can play his two spinners and rely less on his awry pacers. It’s a pity young Akshar Patel won’t reach in time to be included in the XI, because there’s not much he can do on the Perth wicket.
Probable XI: Dhawan, Vijay/Rahul, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Raina, Dhoni, Ashwin, Aaron, Ishant, Yadav.
Watson was hit on the helmet during the nets, an incident could push even back even further than he is. He doesn’t have the runs, but has been bowling well. Shaun Marsh will continue to play in place of Clarke, and debutant Joe Burns looks to replace the unfortunate and injured Mitchell Marsh—who was looking like Australia’s only genuine all-rounder. The batting has been carried by Warner and new captain Smith so far, with guys like Haddin and Watson failing consistently. Ryan Harris will be back to replace Starc, who bowled like an Indian at the Gabba. Johnson has his mojo back, thanks to some needless sledging by the Indians, and perhaps he should consider getting his moustache back to intimidate further.
Probable XI: Warner, Rogers, Watson, Smith, S. Marsh, Joe Burns, Haddin, Johnson, Lyon, Harris, Hazlewood.
Prediction: 3-0, with Perth to go.