Australia – Halfway through Day 2 in Adelaide, Australia were staring down the barrel of a first Test loss, having to again play catch-up in a home series against India. Three sessions later, they were inexplicably walking off the field having rolled the tourists for their lowest ever Test score, having cruised to an 8-wicket win. And it spells danger for India. When the Aussies start the Test summer in a dominant fashion, it makes life mighty hard for a touring side, and there’s little doubt the camp would now be quietly targeting a 4-0 result.
But there’s plenty of work to do before there are any whispers of a whitewash. The brilliance of Aussie pace Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc in Adelaide papered over legitimate concerns around the Aussie top order. While Joe Burns made an impressive return to form in the second innings, there are still issues around his off stump. Matthew Wade is playing in an unfamiliar role, Marnus Labuschagne looks nervous at the crease, and Steve Smith has gone seven Tests without reaching three figures — the longest ever period since his first ton in 2013. India, quite rightly, has pointed out the lack of depth in Australia’s top six and will aim to exploit it.
Both David Warner and Will Pucovski remain unavailable for the Aussies, and as such it’s unlikely they’ll change the winning XI from Adelaide. Cameron Green made an impressive debut in the first Test and will crucial in bowling 8-10 overs per day for Paine on what is likely to be a less lively pitch in Melbourne compared with Adelaide.
India – Just how does a side return from being bowled out for 36? If there’s any solace for India, the second innings in Adelaide all went Australia’s way. Every edge was taken, despite a few loose shots. With skipper Virat Kohli back home and Mohammed Shami similarly ruled out for the rest of the series, it’s an uphill climb for India who is now way out in the series betting market.
Unlike the Aussies, India could potentially make a number of changes to their Test XI from Adelaide. We know they need to make two at least; both Kohli and Shami are done for the series. It would appear young gun Shubman Gill is best-placed to replace Kohli, while the battle to replace Shami looks to be a two-way fight between Mohammed Siraj and Navdeep Saini. Beyond that, though, there could be further changes.
Prithvi Shaw is in torrid form and a shuffle to the batting order could accommodate a return for KL Rahul, who is coming off a hot IPL. Further, Ravindra Jadeja is training strongly and looks to have put his hand up for selection after injuring his hamstring in the T20 series earlier this month. Finally, Indian selectors are also considering bringing in the damaging Rishabh Pant to replace Wriddhiman Saha.
Betting – The controversial MCG pitch will naturally play a huge role in betting markets. There have been some turgid, low Melbourne wickets in recent years but last summer saw an improvement. Should that upward trend continue, it’s unlikely to be as high-scoring (and slow) as last time India toured. But if curator Matt Page delivers on his promise of pace, carry and lateral movement, it’s very difficult to see the Aussies being beaten.
In the individual markets, Steve Smith is the man to be getting on given he averages an incredible 113.50 in Melbourne. His last Test outing against India at the venue saw him peel off a sparkling 192. With the ball, Josh Hazlewood is in career-best touch and, given his incredible accuracy in Adelaide, represents a strong option in the wicket-taker market.
For the tourists, the Boxing Day Test represents perhaps the biggest challenge in stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane’s career. And given his unflappable personality, I’m tipping him to rise to the occasion and play a leading hand with the bat. With the ball, Shami’s injury leaves Bumrah as the lone strike bowler in the Indian setup, but it’s a load he’s capable of shouldering.