The best attended test of the year begins tomorrow as Australia and India square off at the MCG in the third test of their four match series. The first two games at Adelaide and Perth were very competitive, and with the series tantalisingly poised at 1-1, this has all the makings of a cracking test match.
India had drawn first blood in Adelaide but failed to capitalise on it in Perth. The visitors erred in picking an all pace attack- Australia’s solitary spinner Nathan Lyon was named Man of the Match for his performance at the Optus Stadium. It not only put extra pressure on their quicks but also lengthened their tail, and the difference in contributions between the lower order was one major reason for Australia triumphing in WA. The victory was also Tim Paine’s first as Australian captain.
A week later, we’re now in Melbourne, with the MCG set to witness two Victorian batsmen opening the batting at the ground for the first time in 45 years. Aaron Finch suffered a nasty blow to his finger, one which he felt “like it was about to explode”, but has recovered and will take guard alongside Marcus Harris.
The hosts have opted to make only one change, with Peter Handscomb making way for Mitch Marsh. Handscomb’s technique against pace has always been suspect, and he seems to be have been worked out by the Indian quicks, which has led to a call up for all rounder Marsh, who also gives them an extra bowling position.
India have made multiple changes to their XI. For starters, they’ve jettisoned both openers- KL Rahul and Murali Vijay, who have been in horrible form this series. That means young Mayank Agarwal will debut at the MCG, with one of Hanuma Vihari or Cheteshwar Pujara likely to partner him at the top. There’s also a recall for Rohit Sharma, who missed the Perth test through injury. With Ashwin failing his fitness test, left arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, whom Shastri described as “around 80% fit”, has been named in the XI to support the fast bowling trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. Umesh Yadav bows out after an unconvincing display in Perth.
India have won only two tests at the MCG against Australia, and the last one came way back in 1981, when no one in the current lineup was even born. The MCG has often come under criticism for being a bit of a road in this decade- the last test between India and Australia ended in a draw and saw three hundreds, and the curator will be under pressure to produce a sporting wicket akin to that of Adelaide and Perth, which saw a good contest between bat and ball.
The Boxing Day test match between Australia and India begins on December 26, 2018.