India axed both openers Tuesday while Australia recalled allrounder Mitchell Marsh at the expense of struggling batsman Peter Handscomb for the high-stakes third Test.
With the four-Test series tied 1-1, much is riding on the Boxing Day showdown at the Melbourne Cricket Ground where up to 90,000 fans are expected, and India can’t afford another top order flop.
Murali Vijay and KL Rahul scored just 95 runs between them in eight innings across the opening two Tests in Adelaide and Perth, failing to play their part alongside the likes of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara.
They have paid the price with debutant Mayank Agarwal expected to open the batting with Hanuma Vihari, who is set to be bumped up the order.
Rohit Sharma was declared fit and resumes his place in the side after missing the Perth Test.
But ace spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who also missed that game, has failed to recover from an abdominal strain, with left-arm finger-spinner Ravindra Jadeja brought in as part of a four-man attack.
Despite winning to level the series in Perth, Australia opted for change by recalling Mitchell Marsh, whose part-time seamers will help relieve pressure on the home side’s pace attack on a pitch that is not expected to offer as much for the bowlers as Adelaide or Perth.
Part of the thinking also revolves around the potentially decisive fourth and final Test in Sydney, with only a three-day recovery period if Melbourne goes the full five-day distance.
Handscomb is the fall guy, axed after scoring just 34, 14, 7 and 13 across four innings.
India’s playing XI: Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane (VC), Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (WK), Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah
Australia’s playing XI: Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head, Mitch Marsh, Tim Paine (capt), Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc.