At Australia’s most iconic Test venue, comes arguably the biggest test in India’s recent history.
History was made in Adelaide when India were blown away for 36 in an hour of madness on the morning of day three. No Indian team had ever been dismissed for that low a total. It was not kind of start India were hoping for, especially after being in a great position for a majority of two days.
A few bruised egos will eye redemption when India square off against Australia in the second Test here from Saturday, ready to bounce back in skipper Ajinkya Rahane’s hour of reckoning after hitting the nadir of 36.
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For starters, India will be playing at the venue where they have the best record (relatively speaking) in Australia. It is at MCG that India clinched the series last time around, thanks to a spectacular bowling effort lead by Jasprit Bumrah. It is at MCG that India have won the most matches Down Under.
|Melbourne Cricket Ground||13||3||8||0||2||0.375|
|Sydney Cricket Ground||12||1||5||0||6||0.200|
|W.A.C.A. Ground, Perth||4||1||3||0||0||0.333|
|Brisbane Cricket Ground||6||0||5||0||1||0.000|
Seldom has an Indian outfit been at such difficult crossroads in recent years as it is in the aftermath of the humiliating defeat in Adelaide and Kohli’s departure to India.
Long considered as the next big thing in Indian cricket, Shubman Gill has a massive chance to repay his team’s leap of faith in him when he makes his Test debut.
Likewise, young workhorse Mohammed Siraj will step in to fill the void created by crafty Mohammed Shami’s injury and it will be about how Rahane, touted as a bowler’s captain, handles him.
Gill’s languid approach and that extra second while facing fast bowlers, coupled with a way tighter technique than Prithvi Shaw, might just give the dressing room the confidence required in testing times. He will have the company of Mayank Agarwal, who would be wanting to do an encore, if not better, of his performance at a venue where he made his Test debut.
Watch Rahane’s press conference ahead of MCG Test here:
While Kohli’s absence can never be really compensated for, Rahane would like to show his character by promoting himself up the batting order and taking more responsibility.
Cheteshwar Pujara can play his natural doggedly defensive game and India will hope he can tire the bowlers out. In the absence of Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav will have to be relentless and also guide a young Siraj, who is expected to feel a bit jittery.
Finally, the Indians would like to take that big front-foot stride forward while facing Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood not only physically but also figuratively.
It’s not about the defeat in Adelaide but the manner of capitulation which can come back to haunt a side that’s not short on quality. The next few days will be a test of real character and it was perhaps to be expected that a strategic shift was on the cards.
Similarly, Rishabh Pant, whose intent always provides way more assurance than a passive Wriddhiman Saha, is expected to play his fearless brand of cricket which is the need of the hour.
Pant was an instant hit during the last tour in 2018-’19 but in the past year, had lost both form and confidence to surrender his place in the white-ball formats.
Amid the ruins, there lies a glimmer of hope as Ravindra Jadeja, who has recovered fully from his concussion and hamstring injury, will add a new dimension with his all-round abilities in a five-bowler set-up.
A couple of forced and an equal number of tactical changes was on the cards for the visitors as they take on Tim Paine’s buoyant side.
India had won at MCG last time around and Rahane reckons the wicket will be a bit different this time.
“See generally MCG is ... 2018 was slightly different wicket, but generally when we played here in 2014 and the other teams when they played here, it is actually a very good wicket, plays really well,” Rahane said.
India’s record at MCG
Australia vs India Tests at MCG
|Australia||233 runs||1 Jan 1948|
|Australia||inns & 177 runs||6 Feb 1948|
|Australia||inns & 4 runs||30 Dec 1967|
|India||222 runs||30 Dec 1977|
|India||59 runs||7 Feb 1981|
|Draw||-||26 Dec 1985|
|Australia||8 wickets||26 Dec 1991|
|Australia||180 runs||26 Dec 1999|
|Australia||9 wickets||26 Dec 2003|
|Australia||337 runs||26 Dec 2007|
|Australia||122 runs||26 Dec 2011|
|Draw||-||26 Dec 2014|
|India||137 runs||26 Dec 2018|
Top Indian run-scorers at MCG
Top Indian wicket-takers at MCG
An unchanged Australia XI that is expected to play at the MCG will not take its foot off the pedal, skipper Tim Paine insisted.
“Well, we can’t pay any attention to mental scars or whatever the thing they’re talking about,” Paine said on the eve of the match.
“We know India is a proud cricket country, an extremely talented Test match side with lots of dangerous players,” he added.
India will have to contend with a hungry Steve Smith who will be raring to go at his favourite MCG, especially after below par outings in Adelaide.
Steve Smith loves MCG
|AT MCG vs India||1||2||206||192||103.00||1||0|
“I always remember watching the Boxing Day Tests at home and with the family after Christmas. It’s sort of like a dream-come-true moment in a way. As a kid, I always wanted to play in a Boxing Day Test match,” Smith said.
“There’s nothing like the thrill and you get the shivers down your spine, and the hairs on the back of your neck rise up when you walk out to bat on Boxing Day with the crowd yelling,” added Smith.
“I like batting at the MCG on those sort of big occasions. I’d like to try and make the most of them.”
India’s bowlers will have to be at their best to stop the Australian talisman while the pressure is obviously on Rahane and Co to show that 36 all out was an aberration.
And for the first time since cricket restarted in Australia, the MCG will play host to an international match. The setting could not be more prestigious.
There is a fear that, after such a defeat in Adelaide and the team that has been weakened, India could be facing a whitewash Down Under. Day one at MCG might just set the tone for the rest of the series.
Australia’s likely XI: Tim Paine (captain and wk), Joe Burns, Matthew Wade, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Pat Cummins, Josh Jazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon.
India’s confirmed XI: Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara (vice captain), Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wicketkeeper), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj.
With PTI inputs
Statistics courtesy: ESPNcricinfo Statsguru
The match starts at 5 am IST (toss at 430 am) and will be broadcast on Sony Sports Pictures Network