Evenly-matched India, Australia fight for series supremacy

Match details

Melbourne Cricket Ground
December 26 to 30; 05:00 IST
Live on SPN, streaming on SonyLiv

The main picture

Nothing separates India and Australia after the first two Tests: the series is tied 1-1, the team winning the toss have won both the Tests and the team who have batted better have won. The pitches at Adelaide Oval and Optus Stadium in Perth were in stark contrast—Adelaide Oval was on the slower side but offered lateral movement, and the batsmen had a tough time in the second Test because of the uneven and, at times, steep bounce—yet the pattern of India and Australia’s victories was not particularly surprising.

Australia’s victory in Perth was their first under the Tim Paine regime and they will take great confidence to Melbourne. They won convincingly and each of their key players barring Shaun Marsh came good. Their bowling quartet’s workload has been lesser compared to India, who have spent more time on the field and whose bowlers have combinedly bowled a lot more overs in the four innings so far: 420.2 overs against Australia’s 356.4 overs. In a long, four-Test series, with the third and fourth Tests scheduled back to back, fatigue could yet prove to be a factor in who comes out on top on January 7.

That said, this Indian team, thanks to Virat Kohli’s ability to lift his players with his infectious attitude and the quality of their bowling attack, will remain tough to beat. India’s problems are very evident and the team management must find solutions to the constantly floundering opening combination and the consistent inability of this bowling attack to dismiss the opposition lower order cheaply. India must address these problems to nullify Australia’s strengths: their lower order’s proven ability to churn out runs and the menace carried by Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon with the ball.

Melbourne Cricket Ground pitch report and weather forecast

Being a multi-purpose stadium, the MCG uses a drop-in pitch which has tended to be flat in recent years. It has tended to not deteriorate and remain good for batting throughout and getting a result can be challenging. The pitch for the Ashes Test last summer was rated as poor by the ICC after the two teams managed to take a combined 24 wickets over five days. The curator, Matt Page, has said that the aim to produce “a pitch that everyone can show what they can do”, potentially meaning it will be a lot more lively this time round.

According to the weather forecast, the first four days of the Test, at least, are likely to be sunny and hot, with potential for a shower on the fifth morning.

India vs Australia 3rd Test playing 11

After the win in Perth, Australia named an unchanged squad for the final two Tests. Their only concern before naming the playing XI for the third Test will be the fitness of Aaron Finch, who injured his right index finger while batting in the second innings of the second Test. The Victorian has said that he wants to play the Boxing Day Test at his home ground. The other question is whether the home team bring in Mitchell Marsh for Peter Handscomb, who hasn’t contributed much with the bat, or retain the winning combination.

Probable Australia playing 11: 1 Tim Paine (c & wk), 2 Aaron Finch, 3 Marcus Harris, 4 Usman Khawaja, 5 Shaun Marsh, 6 Travis Head, 7 Peter Handscomb/Mitchell Marsh, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Josh Hazlewood, 11 Nathan Lyon

India, on the other hand, must address a couple of problematic areas. Murali Vijay and KL Rahul have made 49 and 48 runs, respectively, this series and their places are unsurprisingly under threat. Mayank Agarwal has flown in as a replacement for Prithvi Shaw, who has returned to India after failing to recover from the lateral ligament ankle injury (left) suffered in the tour match. The question is whether he makes his Test debut straight away or will they ask Hanuma Vihari, who looked solid in Perth, where he made 20 and 28, to open and bring in Rohit Sharma to bat in the middle order. The other question is who among the three spinners will replace Umesh Yadav.

Confirmed India playing XI: 1 Virat Kohli (c) 2 Mayank Agarwal 3 Hanuma Vihari, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 Rishabh Pant (wk), 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Ishant Sharma

Match prediction

The onus is on India to raise their game after the disappointing display in Perth. The batsmen need to deliver collectively if India are to put pressure on Australia. Again, because of the quality of the two bowling attacks, the team who bat better are likely to come out on top.

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