Three Tests in 2020 and India have lost all of them, two in New Zealand and one in Australia - in the most dreadful manner possible. Even if India are missing a few of their stars and have an uphill task for the second Test, MCG is a venue which will suit India to fight back in the series.
India are finally in Australia. After all the friendliness and one-sidedness in the limited-overs series, the fierce battle has commenced with the Test series. Life for opposition never gets easy Down Under as mind games aren't just reserved to the active players but even the Aussie greats play their hand. They have been building up constant pressure on the visitors sans their commander in chief- Virat Kohli.
But that is also a great chance for India to rise as if we look back at their history and rivalry against Australia, they raise their game when down and out. Remember the 2001 Kolkata Test? How India wrestled their way back in 2007/08 series in Perth or the 2017 Bangalore Test after the Pune disaster? So all is not over yet but India will need to fix few aspects of their game to bounce back strongly at a venue, which not only suits them but they had also tasted success on their last tour.
Strong footwork and positive intent
Let's address the elephant in the room first. India got all-out on 36 and if they don't improve on that, it's over for the tourists even before they blink their eyes. But, how do they improve that? The answer lies in the forgettable Adelaide Test itself. Let us rewind back to the first innings. Indian batsmen showed a lot of confidence in their approach and there was a lot of positive intent on display. Positive intent doesn't only mean to score at a quick rate. But in essence, it's about the mindset that helps a batsman to get into great positions when they are thinking of scoring runs than merely surviving. The lack of intent was a major talking point as we discussed post-game, which resulted in poor footwork as well.
India need to replicate the way they batted in the first innings, taking "nice, big stride forward", a thought echoed by Sachin Tendulkar as well. As technical it is, it's also an extension of a positive mindset as it shows a batsman's mind is uncluttered and he's doing what's required to overcome challenges than diving in the deep sea of doubts. Australia bowled tighter on the off-stump in second innings but with lesser seam movement expected in MCG, batsmen will get breathing space. Now only if they get over the horrors of the Adelaide Test, and follow the template and plan, which made them look compact in first innings of the Test series opener.
Attack Australia's batting weak link
Despite the addition of Smith and Labuschagne, Aussie batting looked light in the Adelaide Test. In fact, they were at one stage reduced to 79 for 5 and 111 for 7 and if not for Tim Paine, Australia would never have reached 191. Shami might be missing but Siraj is a great addition as he brings similar control as Shami if not the quality. With the addition of Jadeja in the side, India's bowling has definitely got strengthened. And they can pounce on the batsmen to turn the tide as only Marnus and Paine, among fit players for the second Test average in excess of 40 since the 2019 Ashes.
For Joe Burns, the plan is clear, don't try to bounce out the Queenslander like India tried in the second innings as he made a fifty. As per CricViz, Burns averages 70.3 with the pull shot and there was hardly surprise when he countered India's short-ball tactics. His remodelled stance makes him vulnerable to LBW as he walks across the stumps and gets locked up with the front leg across into the off-side, which is how he got out against Bumrah in first innings. This is how he should be targeted. For Wade, who's aggressive and likes to feel the bat on the ball, he can be tested on fourth-fifth stump line. Or else, Ashwin can be used early against him as he averages 24 and has got out to Ash four times already.
Smith and Marnus are the two pillars of the side. But India had clear cut plans against both of them as pacers relentlessly attacked them on the top of off. It was as basic as it gets and opposed to all the talks about attacking Smith with short-stuff, India put Smith under pressure with traditional Test match bowling. And that is the best way to go against him too as he has been averaging 32 since Ashes last year. Ultimately, he got out to Ashwin who made full use of the mounting pressure. That has to be the ploy again, with bouncer barrage the back-up plan. He can also be attacked with Jadeja as he averages 37.5 against him and even overall against slow left-arm orthodox bowlers he has the second-worst average (39.7) and poorest strike-rate (48) among all bowling types.
Marnus is relatively new to Tests so India rightly tested him with short bowling to which he looked vulnerable and would have been out early if not for two dropped catches. Even in second innings, he looked shook and was trembling under pressure, showing utmost impatience against Ashwin's offies. India can continue questioning him on the top of the off and unleash bouncers as he most likely looks doing the rest for India.
With an average of just 25.9, his worst against any bowling type, Travis Head has to be tested with right-arm medium pace as he has been at sea against them. Also, Ashwin can be a potent option against him despite his great record against right-arm off-spinners as his variation in pace and flight can do Head again.
India will also need to better their bowling against lower-middle-order batting. Mitchell Starc was no Sam Curran to spread the field and give easy singles. India can't let the last five score more than the top five like they did in the first Test. Indian attack seems at bay the moment someone tries to counter-attack. Very early they ditch the basic plans of getting a wicket even after having success with it early-on. Their impatience, indiscipline and desperation often helps the opposition to cash in. Rahane and co. need to be mindful of their plans and have to follow it with all conviction at the G.
Playing the right players at right positions
India will have as many as four new faces in the second Test as they announced their XI on Friday with two debutantes- Gill and Siraj. Middle-order batsman Hanuma Vihari has been billed as a potential opening option since he batted solidly as an opener last time at MCG, a fixture that India won. But, India shouldn't play with his spot. After the successful West Indies Test series last year, Vihari hardly played the home Tests and hasn't done well in three Tests this year so far. So, India should keep backing him as a middle-order option than trying to put extra pressure on an already under fire batter.
Shubman Gill has been seen as a middle-order option but he should open the batting in the Boxing Day Test as he did in the warm-up games. Also, it's something that he has done well for Punjab in domestic cricket. He's very compact at the crease, stays still and plays the ball very late. He was up to the task when peppered with short-stuff and showcased patience on the fourth-fifth stump line all whilst being able to maintain a healthy strike-rate in the pink-ball warm-up game.
Who should bat at 4? Rahane or Vihari? Surely, it has to be Rahane. In Kohli's absence, India's batting will revolve around Pujara and Jinx and they both need to bat together for hours, stitch together big runs if India have to win or even compete in the series. Rahane needs to take the responsibility just like he had done in the 2017 Bangalore Test where he formed a match-winning partnership with Pujara against Australia to turn around India's batting fortunes in the series, which they eventually won after being on back-foot. Pant has to bat 6 as he averages 58.33 in Australia and got a century in Sydney pink-ball practice game not too long ago, followed by Jadeja and Ashwin in the batting-order.