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.

MORE TOP-ORDER CONTRIBUTIONS

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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