India eye revival at Melbourne

Dhoni's men need to exploit even the half-chances to hinder confident Aussies

India eye revival at Melbourne

This Christmas week also coincides with MS Dhoni completing a decade of international cricket of which he has spent more than seven years at the helm of the Indian cricket team, beginning with his first assignment in the hot seat at the 2007 inaugural World T20.

During these years, the 33-year-old has won everything that a captain could dream of. He has led India to victories in World T20 (2007 in South Africa), World Cup (2011 in India) and Champions Trophy (2013 in England) besides presiding over India’s reign as the No 1 ranked Test team in the world for over two years.

The enviable success he has enjoyed, however, is only paralleled by the prolonged failures he has endured in away Tests. Since the 4-0 whitewash by England in 2011, little has gone right for someone who has been described as the man with the Midas touch.

Beginning with the England series in 2011, India have lost 13 of their 17 Tests on the road with one win and three draws under Dhoni. The number of defeats is staggering and that he is still to be unseated from his position is because of a combination of factors including a lack of options.

Down 0-2 and in a must-win situation to salvage a draw, Dhoni faces a litmus test of sorts. Any reversal in the Boxing Day Test match, which begins here at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday, will mean another series loss and it will only result in voices against his continuation at the top getting strident.

India have been competitive that has surprised and impressed in equal measure even the Australians but they have not been able to step up to the next level that will fetch them an elusive win.

Not many expected India to stand up to the Aussie pace test but the young batting line-up has come out with its reputation enhanced in the first two Tests. Virat Kohli, of course, was outstanding with his two centuries in the Adelaide tie but Murali Vijay has been exceptional at the top of the order.

Unfortunately you can’t say the same about Shikhar Dhawan. The left-hander may just have escaped a potential axe with an 81 in the Brisbane Test batting late in the order following an injury to his wrist, but patience is wearing thin.

Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, victims of some wrong decisions, have been reasonably good but it’s the sixth batsman, Rohit Sharma, who has done precious little so far.

India may even be tempted to replace the struggling batsman with Suresh Raina, who is getting longer hits at the ‘nets’, along with Bhuvneshwar Kumar for Varun Aaron. Dhoni declared Bhuvneshwar fit and available for selection but indicated that rushing in the paceman without proper bowling workload in practice, may not be a wise move.  

The visitors will also have to learn to press home the advantage. Their batting has collapsed four times in as many innings from comfortable positions and their bowlers failed to wipe out Australia’s tail when they had them reeling at 247 for six at the Gabba. Good teams create opportunities but better teams make the most of them. India need to make that transition and fast.   

Australia, besieged by their own set of problems, have shown how to overcome obstacles through sheer determination. Phillip Hughes’ death had left them vulnerable, they lost the services their captain and best batsman Michael Clarke after the first Test, they have an inexperienced captain at the helm, their players are getting injured in the match as well as during practice but they have shown the character to offset each setback.

Good news for Australia came in the form of three injured players – David Warner (thumb), Shaun Marsh (right wrist) and Shane Watson (bouncer blow on the helmet) – being ready to take the field even as the hosts effected two changes to their side that played in Brisbane.

A fit Ryan Harris will come in for Mitchell Starc while Queensland batsman Joe Burns will make his debut in place of a hamstrung Mitchell Marsh. Seeking to stay afloat in the series, India couldn’t have come to a more intimidating venue than the MCG.

The ‘G’ will be akin to a Roman Colosseum with close to 90,000 holiday crowd firmly behind the home team. The vast outfield here will test the stamina of the fielders while setting field itself will be a big challenge for Dhoni.

But then India’s record has been the best here where they have recorded two of their total five wins in 10 previous tours Down Under.  
DH News Service

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