Australia is on the verge of reclaiming the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, heading into the Boxing Day Test at the MCG as raging-hot favourites over embattled India – despite a clutch of injury concerns and a couple of veterans struggling for form.
The Steve Smith-led Australian side fought back bravely at the Gabba after an opening day ravaged by injury and a listless bowling performance, fighting their way to first innings lead with a superb lower order effort and skittling India again to set up a comfortable four-wicket win inside four days and a 2-0 series lead.
India appear to be imploding, focusing their energy on complaining about umpiring decisions, substandard practice wickets and poor food rather than improving the clear inadequacies in their game. The Test in Brisbane was a niggly affair – and the tourists came off second best in the mind games. It shapes as a long road back to save the series for the feisty tourists.
Queensland batsman Joe Burns has joined the Australian squad to cover injured all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, and looks set to make his Test debut at the MCG. David Warner, Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh have all taken knocks in the nets in recent days but should take their respective places in the team. Josh Hazlewood’s stellar debut showing should see him retained over Mitchell Starc if, as expected, Ryan Harris returns from a quad strain.
Australia: David Warner, Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, Steve Smith (c), Shaun Marsh, Joe Burns, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
Given India’s increasingly insipid performances in this series, changes should be imminent. Outstanding all-rounder Bhuveneshwar Kumar is firming to return from an ankle injury – most probably at the expense of Varun Aaron. Rohit Sharma is under the pump to retain his spot from Suresh Raina or potentially another bowler, but is likely to get another chance to post a score. Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have apparently recovered from injuries they suffered in the nets prior to day 4 of the Gabba Test.
India (probable): Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Aninkya Rahane, Rohi Sharma, M.S. Dhoni, Ravi Ashwin, Bhuveneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami.
The Phillip Hughes-inspired goodwill that permeated most of the first Test in Adelaide has all but disappeared. Brisbane was marked by constant sniping, sledging and confrontation. It’s a controversial part of cricket, but the swift return of the niggle is at least a sign the game is moving on from the Hughes tragedy.
The second Test turned into a debacle for India. They were frustrated by some dusty umpiring calls, yet refused to concede adopting the DRS would have aided their cause. They complained about everything away from the pitch at the Gabba, from the allegedly substandard practice nets to the inadequate vegetarian options. Addressing their erratic middle order, paper-thin lower order and largely ineffective bowling doesn’t seem to be on the agenda.