With the series tied at 1-1 with two to go, the third Test, starting at the beautiful MCG on Wednesday, becomes extremely crucial for both teams.
Having been part of more than one Boxing Day showdown, I can state from experience that the atmosphere at the ground, particularly on Day One, will be electric. It is imperative for India to embrace that atmosphere rather than be intimidated by it.
The way I see it, there are three areas that India must address without delay. The first is the prolonged drought of the opening pair. The second is the inability of the set batsmen to kick on and notch up hundreds and the third is allowing the lower-order to score handy, often decisive runs.
To the opening slot first, I feel Mayank Agarwal must be given a go at the MCG. He has brought down doors through sheer determination, commitment and weight of lovely runs, both for Karnataka and for India A and has served his apprenticeship long enough. He comes with freshness and positivity, and without the baggage that someone like Lokesh Rahul is carrying.
Rahul, unfortunately, has had a poor run for nine Tests now either side of his century at The Oval and I can sense a massive lack of confidence. The manner of his dismissals too have been quite similar. I am of the opinion that a break to clear up his mind will do wonders for the vastly gifted young man. I also believe Murali Vijay showed enough grit and desire in the second innings in Perth to be persisted with for the time being.
I admit India have got the only two hundreds of the series, but set batsmen can’t afford to throw their hands away. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli played marvellously well to score a century in Adelaide and Perth, respectively, but India will also be kicking themselves for having squandered chances to make more tons — like Ajinkya Rahane and Pujara again, both in the Perth Test.
Equally worrisome is the ferocity with which the Australian tail has wagged. As impressive as India’s pace attack has been against the more established batsmen, I feel they try too hard when it comes to the tail and therefore end up being frustrated as the batsmen string together partnerships.
Just because they have rolled over the top-order doesn’t mean they need to blast out the tail. The same adherence to basics as when they bowl at the frontline batsmen needs to prevail if India’s bowlers are to prevent the lower-order from making the decisive, meaningful runs.