India v Australia
Tuesday December 26 00.00
TV: live on BT Sport
Handscomb has got to go
Australia levelled the series with a strong performance in Perth. The 146-run margin was the size one expects them to win by against an Asian team on a bowler-friendly surface in Perth.
Still, they should resist the temptation to name an unchanged XI. Peter Handscomb has got to go and the fact he is even near the team exposes a chronic lack of batting depth in Australia at the moment. We've said it before but he has no technique to speak of.
Mitchell Marsh, the all-rounder, would be a smarter pick. He might not add much in the way of runs but his seamers provide relief for the pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. Aaron Finch has a finger problem but is expected to play.
India fitness worries
It is easy to criticise after the event, but India paid a hefty price for failing to pick a spinner in Perth. It was sod's law that Nathan Lyon picked up the man of the match award.
Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri were probably guilty of believing the hype about their pace bowling attack. Kohli's insistence that they would be 'excited' by a fast wicket was strange given the history of Indian batting teams wilting on such surfaces.
And so it proved. The age-old failings on alien wickets resurfaced, regardless of a spinner being in the XI.
India are beginning to struggle with fitness. Prithvi Shaw is out of the series, Ravi Jadeja is 80 per cent fit while Rohit Sharma and Ravi Ashwin are both doubts. Ashwin is absolutely vital. In 11 Tests without him they have lost seven and drawn two.
Bhuv Kumar could come in for Umesh Yadav. He is a highly skilled bowler and he adds ballast with the bat. Australia's Nos. 8-11 have made 227 runs in the two Tests, while India's have made 51.
Bowlers should enjoy MCG
The MCG drop-in pitch has been carpeted by the ICC following last year's bore draw in the Ashes. More of the same? Well, the groundsman has said he expects it to play similarly to the Sheffield Shield match between Victoria and South Australia. It was a draw but rain ruined a competitive match with bowlers holding sway. Scott Boland, the home quick, took seven first-innings wickets as South Australia went down for 244. Victoria replied with 351 and then there was spin for Fawad Ahmed as they were set 124 in the fourth. They were having a bit of a wobble at 22 for two before the weather came.
In the Shield match against New South Wales, Victoria won by an innings with Chris Tremain and Boland in the wickets, razing the visiting batting.
Australia are 2.186/5, India 2.68/5 and the draw 6.511/2. Given that we have been strong on Australia since before a ball was bowled it would seem strange to ditch them now.
However, we concede that things are tighter than we expected and it could be that there is little to choose between the two. It is possible that the real difference so far has been the toss: both Tests have been won by the bowling team able to make use of a wearing pitch.
A covering of grass on the wicket and reports that the ball has nipped around in the Shield, however, could mean that the side batting first has a trickier time in this Test.
A shoot-out could be on the cards. It would not surprise us to see whoever bats first get knocked over. Still, on balance India are beginning to look a little ragged and with Ashwin not confirmed, there and now suggests Aussies were worthy.
Harris has feelgood vibe
Aussie opener Marcus Harris is beginning to look at home in Tests. His first-innings half-century in Perth was crucial. He will be happy to be back at the 'G. In the Shield against New South Wales he made an unbeaten 250. The 5/1 that Betfair Sportsbook offer doesn't look a bad bet at all.
Kohli's century memory
India got a draw at this venue in 2014 with Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane making big tons. Kohli's 169 trumping Rahane's 147. The former is the 9/4 jolly for top India first-innings bat with Sportsbook and the latter 11/2. Chet Pujara is 10/3. Murali Vijay and KL Rahul are struggling.