India On The Ropes Going Into Boxing Day Test

December 25, 2018

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After the high of Adelaide, India came crashing down in Perth.

After a Test that revealed numerous frailties already known by most observers, there is no doubt that they are the side under pressure going into the marquee Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. This isn’t a major surprise, after all, considering India have generally struggled in Australia, but this feels like much more of an opportunity.

India have never won a Test series in Australia, but this is probably their best chance in a while; the home side shorn of David Warner and Steve Smith. And yet India go into Christmas with plenty of concerns over the composition of the XI come Boxing Day. Given that four pacers in Perth didn’t produce dividend, Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli’s decisions will be scrutinized.

In an ideal world, Prithvi Shaw would be walking out to open, the swashbuckling future of Indian cricket. A confident opener getting India off to a positive start would set the tone for the rest of the game. But Shaw’s injury prior to the first Test has wrecked plan B. The incumbent openers, Murali Vijay and Lokesh Rahul, are in all sorts of trouble: Vijay with 49 runs from the four innings so far, Rahul with 48. And there was an equal case to drop either of them: Rahul is younger than Vijay and appears to have the backing of the management who feel he is ‘one’ innings away from form. He has been struggling nevertheless, but the consolation is that Vijay has done no better. India have flown in Mayank Agarwal as a replacement for Shaw, but it didn’t seem like India would drop both openers. After all, this was the third Test of an overseas series, tied at 1-1. But they have decided to drop both, bringing in Agarwal on his debut and pushing Hanuma Vihari up the order. Radical, or rational?

It seems radical, but in all honesty it is the best decision. Most fans didn’t think the management would go through with it, but persisting with an out-of-form Rahul, Vijay or Shikhar Dhawan does favours to no one. Agarwal and Vihari is a gutsy and enterprising opening pair, and they should surely do better than anyone. There remains the chance that Rohit Sharma will open with Agarwal, but he should slot in at four down. Rahul will benefit from some time out, even if India’s opening future could be looking like Agarwal and Shaw. Let’s see if it pays dividends.

Beyond Pujara, Kohli and Rahane, there remain questions marks too. India’s four-pacer strategy wasn’t necessarily bad, but it cost them the control that Kohli desires. Umesh Yadav released the pressure far too often, whereas Ashwin or Jadeja would have kept one end tight. The main difference, though, was the lower order’s batting ability (or lack of). It was clear that the Australian tail were making the decisive impact with the bat in comparison to the meek Indian effort. It is no surprise then, that Yadav has been dropped for Jadeja, with Sharma strengthening the lower order.

Ashwin missed Perth and will miss Melbourne too; his loss is a blow. But the impact is lessened by Jadeja’s inclusion: despite contradicting reports from the Indian camp regarding his fitness, he will play. Considering his considerable all-round ability, it is a relief for India that he is included. And suddenly the Indian batting looks much more deep, with two new openers and batting till number eight.

With no one knowing how the pitch will play, Melbourne is set to be a cracker. Perfectly poised, let’s hope it lives up to the hype.

In other news

  • WV Raman has been appointed as the coach of the Indian women team, to the chagrin of some who preferred Gary Kirsten in the role. Nevertheless, Raman has some work to do in resolving the rift between Mithali Kaur and Harmanpreet Kaur in the aftermath of the T20 World Cup. With plenty of potential and buzz around Indian women’s cricket, he has to get it right
  • Angelo Mathews and Kusal Mendis fought heroically to deny New Zealand a lead into the Test series. With the game all but lost, they batted out day 4, scoring 239, and then day 5 was washed out. It sets up the series perfectly
  • Nothing sums up the Big Bash’s penchant for innovation more than an equally weighted bat to decide the ‘toss’. It’s a method used by street cricketers all over the world; that the BBL are using this is just amusing in a good way. But jokes aside, the Big Bash is probably the best T20 league in the world, even beyond IPL
  •  The West Indies-Bangladesh no-ball farce was exactly that, a farce. The umpire made a mistake in calling a legal ball a no-ball (a ball that yielded a wicket), but what’s more absurd is that the laws don’t allow them to reverse a wrong decision made on the field. That should be the focus of discussion, the laws, rather than a arbitrary human mistake
  • Three Boxing Day tests to wrap up the year, with South Africa-Pakistan too. Let’s end 2018 with a bang, shall we?

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Author: Rahul Warrier

Rahul is a freelance football writer, having delved into writing in 2015. Based in Singapore, he is a senior writer at These Football Times. His work has also been featured on FourFourTwo, Yahoo Sport, IBWM and MEN among others. He's a football fan, but a cricket enthusiast first.

Twitter @rahulw_

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