What India need to do to regain advantage against Australia in Test series

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Virat Kohli and India need to keep their heads in the heat of battle.

At the halfway stage of the four-match series between Australia and India, the momentum has shifted from the visitors to the hosts as the Boxing Day Test approaches at Melbourne.

All the progress made by Virat Kohli and his men following their 31-run triumph in the series opener at Adelaide has quickly been cancelled out after the hosts bounced back with a 146-run win at Perth.

As the two teams now head to Melbourne for the Boxing Day showdown, we look at three things the visitors need to change to wrest back the initiative in the series.

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India currently have a major problem in the batting department at both ends of the team order. The openers have failed in their task miserably with both Murali Vijay and KL Rahul looking completely out of sorts against the Aussie pace attack.

That problem has been exacerbated by an equally woeful lower order where India’s lengthy tail has become a sitting duck for the hosts any time they walk out to bat.

That will need to change for Kohli’s men at Melbourne, especially at the top. With Prithvi Shaw ruled out of the remainder of the tour, his late replacement Mayank Agarwal looks set to make his India debut in front of 80,000 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

While the pressure will well and truly be on the debutant’s shoulders, Kohli and Co have a difficult decision to make when it comes to his opening partner for the Test. To stick with Vijay’s experienced head or to place his faith on the undeniable talent of Rahul will be the question that will vex Kohli in the coming days.

KL Rahul looks completely bereft of confidence.

KL Rahul looks completely bereft of confidence.

BE WARY OF MIND GAMES

For perhaps the first time in history, a touring India Test squad in Australia was billed as the heavy favourites with the hosts still reeling from the aftermath of the ball-tampering saga which saw their best batsmen in Steve Smith and David Warner banned from international cricket.

The task for Tim Paine and his men had very much been about presenting a different cricket culture to the Australian public with the focus on their on-field behaviour. However, that picture has drastically changed now following the confrontation between Paine and Kohli at Perth.

That incident seems to have galvanised the Aussie squad as well as their home fans with Kohli now being painted as the pantomime villain by the Australian media.

Kohli and India would be well served by not getting sucked into this narrative and instead focus on their cricket, like it had been the case in Adelaide. Any further sparks will only draw more home support for the beleaguered hosts and that could prove dangerous.

Paine managed to get under Kohli's skin at Perth.

Paine managed to get under Kohli’s skin at Perth.

SPIN BACK ON THE MENU

Kohli erred heavily in Perth by not fielding a single specialist spinner after an injury to Ravichandran Ashwin. The gambit of playing four fast bowlers backfired heavily for the India skipper with Australia off-spinner Nathan Lyon spinning a web on the visitors’ batsmen with an eight-wicket match haul.

Despite having the option of using Ravindra Jadeja or Kuldeep Yadav, Kohli went in with an all-pace attack on the Perth wicket and paid a heavy price for it with Umesh Yadav having a forgettable outing.

By not playing Jadeja, Kohli not only reduced India’s spin options but also lengthened a tail already struggling to score runs. On a wicket like the MCG’s, India will definitely need a spinner in their ranks.

Both Ashwin and Jadeja can provide India with some desperately needed lower order runs and the presence of either of them is a must for the visitors at Melbourne.

A return for Ashwin will boost India heavily.

A return for Ashwin will boost India heavily.

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Azhar Ali and Babar Azam register centuries in productive day for Pakistan in tour game

Waseem Ahmed 19:46 20/12/2018
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Azhar Ali retired out after scoring 100.

Azhar Ali and Babar Azam struck centuries in what was a fruitful day of cricket for Pakistan in their warm-up tour game against a Cricket South Africa Invitational XI at Benomi.

The tourists declared their first innings at 306-7 on Friday after the hosts had posted 318-7 on day one. Pakistan pacer Mohammad Amir then picked up the wicket of Joshua Richards as the hosts were reduced to 45-1 in their second innings before stumps were drawn on day two.

Earlier in the day, both Pakistan openers Imam-ul-Haq (23) and Fakhar Zaman (19) got decent starts but were unable to kick on as the CSA XI bowlers kept chipping away with regular wickets. Uncapped Shan Masood looked good in his 41-run innings before he became Thandolwethu Mnyaka’s second scalp of the day.

Haris Sohail and Asad Shafiq had poor outings with the bat for Pakistan with the former scoring only four while the latter was dismissed for a duck.

Pakistan’s innings was faltering at 112-5 before Azhar and Babar put on a 155-run stand for the sixth wicket. Azhar retired hurt after bringing up an excellent ton off 151 deliveries before Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed was dismissed for seven runs.

Babar brought up his century towards the end of the day before Sarfraz opted to give his bowlers a go before the close of play.

A strong showing by Babar Azam.

A strong showing by Babar Azam.

The Pakistan skipper will be delighted to see Amir double his match tally after the Pakistan pacer castled the stumps of Richards in the final session on Friday.

The ongoing three-day clash is Pakistan’s sole warm up fixture before they take on hosts South Africa in a three-Test series commencing on Boxing Day.

BRIEF SCORES

Cricket South Africa Invitational XI first innings: 318-7 declared

Pakistan first innings: 306-7 declared

Azhar Ali: 100 (retired out)

Babar Azam: 104not out

Cricket South Africa Invitational XI second innings: 45-1

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Mitchell Starc expecting the unexpected from MCG pitch in Boxing Day Test

Sudhir Gupta 19:04 20/12/2018
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Australia pacer Mitchell Starc.

Australia pacer Mitchell Starc believes the pitch at Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) for the Boxing Day Test against India could spring a surprise for both teams after it was rated as ‘poor’ by the ICC following the Ashes fixture last year.

England opener Alastair Cook struck a double ton as the corresponding Boxing Day fixture last year between Australia and England ended in a tame draw. With the curator at the MCG attempting to shake things up during this year’s Sheffield Shield cricket, Starc does not know what to expect from the drop-in pitch when the two teams meet.

“I don’t know what to expect. I didn’t play last year. I had to watch from the side and it didn’t do a thing for five days so hopefully they’ve sorted it out,” Starc was quoted as saying by the Sydney Morning Herald.

“It sounds like they’ve been trying a few things with the (Sheffield) Shield cricket there in the first few rounds. I think it may be a surprise, what they actually dish out next week,” the 28-year-old added.

While Starc remains in the dark on what to expect from the pitch, his team-mate and fellow pacer Peter Siddle is backing it to produce a result in the Boxing Day fixture.

“I played a couple matches ago when I got back from the UAE against South Australia and it was actually a good cricket wicket,” Siddle told sports radio station SEN.

“It’s going to be a good one and I think the boys should be excited and there’s definitely going to be a result wicket I think, going by what’s happened in the first couple of Shield games this season.”

The two teams are currently locked at 1-1 in the four-match series after India’s 31-run win in Adelaide was cancelled out by Australia’s 146-run triumph at Perth.

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