On 18 December 2018, the Indian cricket team again crumbled in a fourth innings chase away from home to hand Australia the momentum in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Set a target of 287 to win, the Indian team only managed to muster 140, with Ajinkya Rahane's and Rishabh Pant’s score of 30 being the highest. While such a capitulation could’ve been excused once in a while, for India it has worryingly become a trend.
On many an occasion, India seem to be ahead in the game and yet contrive to lose from strong positions. Though it is arguable whether India were ever in a winning position at Perth, there has certainly bee a pattern which has come to define India’s overseas tours lately.
Unfortunately for the Men in Blue, they may have taken a step back after their good work in Adelaide. They are now left with the prospect of facing an Australian side with its tail up in the coming matches.
Here, we will look at three things that India need to do in order to wrestle back the initiative from the hosts and set themselves on their way to retain the coveted trophy.
#3. Drop KL Rahul and Murali Vijay
India dropped Shikhar Dhawan for the series Down Under and intended to proceed with the opening pair of Prithvi Shaw and KL Rahul. However, an untimely injury to the former led to the baton being passed to Murali Vijay.
In the two Tests so far, Vijay and Rahul have combined to give India starts of 3, 63, 6 and 0. The second innings at Adelaide represented the only instance where the pair managed to negotiate the threat of the new ball, and it eventually set India on their way to victory, thus underlining the importance of a solid opening stand.
As for the players individually, Rahul has been woefully out of sorts in all formats after his stellar IPL. A T20 hundred and a century at the Oval have been sandwiched between a host of low scores.
Yet, the most troubling aspect has been Rahul’s ability to find new ways to get out. In England, the out-swinger first caused him problems, but by the end of the tour, the in-swinger became his biggest nemesis. At Adelaide, he wafted at two deliveries outside off, whereas his susceptibility to the incoming delivery was exposed at Perth.
Rahul is an extremely talented player and could yet come back and have a superlative career for India. However, you feel that the best move for him as well as the team would be to give him some time off and let him rediscover the form that once made people dub him as India’s next batting sensation.
As for Vijay, he has struggled on all of India’s away tours this year. He was woeful in South Africa and somehow managed to plumb greater depths in England. Moreover, he doesn’t look like the solid option he once was, and his weaknesses have reared their ugly head in Australia once too often.
Yesterday, Shaw was ruled out of the series and Mayank Agrawal was named as his replacement. With not much time left before the third Test, it would make sense to give a player not burdened by past failures a go.
As for the other opening slot, India need to experiment and find a solution from within. Whether they push Cheteshwar Pujara to open, introduce Parthiv Patel at the top or give Rohit Sharma the chance the whole of India is craving for, is anyone’s guess right now.
But one thing has become amply clear: India just can’t continue with their current openers going into Boxing Day.
#2. Play a front-line spinner
India sprung a huge surprise when they decided to field all pace bowlers at Perth. Though the decision looked warranted after an initial look at the pitch, it became increasingly clear by the end of Day 1 that India had committed a mistake of historic proportions.
Ashwin was ruled out of the second Test and Jadeja seemed like the perfect replacement. Yet, the Indian think tank thought of giving Umesh Yadav a run.
The Vidarbha lad failed to impress and was especially poor in the second essay, conceding more than 4 runs per over.
A lot of India’s bowling plans revolve around creating pressure at one end and exploiting the batsmen’s impatience at the other end. However, while the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma created pressure, Yadav and Shami weren’t able to take advantage in the first innings.
Though the latter redeemed himself second time out, it was probably too late by then.
The MCG wicket would also be a drop-in pitch, and such pitches have shown a tendency to be slow. Thus, the Indian team needs to abandon its policy of playing all quicks and utilise their spin bowling resources.
The question of whether to play Ashwin or Jadeja is for the team management to answer. But whatever they decide, they definitely can’t make the error of not including either in Melbourne.
#1. Revert to the five-bowler strategy
When Virat Kohli assumed the role of Indian captain, he made all the right noises with his inclination to play five bowlers. For many a year India had lacked the ability to pick 20 wickets in a game and in Kohli, they seemed to have a captain hell-bent on correcting that flaw.
However, as time has passed, Kohli and the Indian team management have picked and chosen when to deploy five bowlers. Unfortunately for them, they have gotten it wrong more times than it being the other way round.
In 2018, India have won three Tests in the SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand & Australia) countries, and it is no coincidence that they’ve fielded five bowlers on two out of those three occasions.
However, with an uncertainty surrounding their batting, the Indians have frequently given in to the temptation of playing an extra batsman.
Come Melbourne, the Indian team needs to display the brand of fearless cricket that Kohli always preaches. Attacking intent is not just shown on the field, but also sent out through signals via team selections.
Hardik Pandya has been included in the squad for the last two games. You would hope that he is included in the team, thus reverting to the five-bowler strategy.
Despite facing an Australian team in transition, a series Down Under is never easy. In order to beat the Australians in their backyard, a combination of courage and adventure is a prerequisite.
And unless India are brave and play with five bowlers, they could see their greatest chance of a Test series victory in Australia slip from their grasp.