New Delhi: After enduring an eight-wicket drubbing in the first Test in Adelaide, which also included a humiliating second-inning packing on 36, Team India produced a scintillating comeback in the following match in Melbourne. The team looked unfazed despite the names of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli missing from the playing XI. Ajinkya Rahane, the stand-in skipper for the tour, made the uphill climb look simple as he orchestrated India's innings with a century, which eventually turned out to be more than enough for the hosts.
The team would now look to maintain the tempo going to Sydney and take a 2-1 lead as the action resumes on Thursday after a week-long gap. The good news for Rahane will be the availability of star opener Rohit, who the captain believes is in great touch. Addressing the virtual press conference earlier today, the skipper acknowledged the positives Rohit brings to a side.
Unfolding the RoHIT-MAN show
With India's playing XI already being announced, Rohit will start the innings with Shubman Gill, with the latter making valuable contributions in the previous encounter in Melbourne. The skipper would hope for a strong start from the duo, which in return will lift some pressure off India's middle-order. Apart from Rahane's match-winning show in Melbourne, the middle-order has struggled so far in the tour.
The wait is over!
— BCCI (@BCCI) January 1, 2021
Cheteshwar Pujara has managed to put just 63 in four innings and with Mayank Agarwal out of the equation, the team has shown faith in Hanuma Vihari's batting abilities. Vihari too has not been impressive, accumulating just 45 from three innings.
With the Sydney turf renowned for its turn, Ravindra Jadeja could be the x-factor considering his all-round skills. The Saurashtra cricketer is in supreme form in all three departments of the game and the skipper seems mighty pleased with it. "As a batsman, Ravindra Jadeja has improved a lot and that is a massive point as a team's perspective," Rahane said during the press conference. "When you know that your number seven can contribute with the bat, that becomes really easy for you to actually get that (decent) total, and obviously in the field, you have seen him taking some brilliant catches. So yes his addition in the team helped us a lot and he has been really fantastic and it is really great for us," he added.
Pressure on the hosts
Meanwhile, the pressure will clearly be on the hosts as they try to stop India, who look clear favourites to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Despite having world-class batsmen in the form of Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, the Australian team has looked intimidated both in front of spin or pace. The situation in the Aussie camp looks so grim that they might risk an unfit David Warner in order to combat the Indian bowling line-up.
While Labuschagne has shown some intent, it is Smith's who has looked bleak. The former Australian skipper has just managed 10 in the last four innings and a lot would be expected of him as the team prepares for the contest.
Too less to bank upon
However, now with Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami injured, Australia would look to capitalise on India's weak-link - the inexperienced pace setup. Despite Jasprit Bumrah leading the attack, India's seam department lacks depth. Navdeep Saini will make his Test debut and the team will have to count on Mohammed Siraj, who will be playing the role of the third seamer.
Filing up the gaps
India's mantle with the ball will heavily rely on the spinners with R Ashwin and Jadeja taking charge of the department. Having already picked 10 wickets, Ashwin has stood on top of Aussie key batsmen such as Smith and Labuschagne. It's not just the wickets but his intelligent execution has helped him create a psychological advantage over the world-class batters.
Pitch report: The Sydney track is good for batting and it also generates help for the spinners. In India's previous tour to Australia, Pujara and Rishabh Pant smashed centuries each and would hope to do the same this time around.
India (Playing XI): Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Siraj, Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini
Australia Squad: David Warner, Matthew Wade, Will Pucovski, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Tim Paine (captain and wk), Nathan Lyon, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Marcus Harris, Mitchell Swepson, Michael Neser