Does India need to fix its opening combination for Melbourne Test

Photo credit: Tim Goode/PA Wire.  

By Gaurav Joshi

Melbourne.  The series is tied at 1-1.   A crowd in excess of 70,000 is expected for the opening day of the Boxing Day Test match.   India is aware that one more victory and they can regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.   Australia knows that if they can win the third Test, it is bound to put enormous pressure on India going into the fourth Test in Sydney.

Australia has the advantage of momentum having crushed India by 145 runs in Perth.   There are more problems for India than Australia, especially in the opening department.   Mayank Agarwal and   Hardik Pandya have arrived in Melbourne on Friday night.  Players were been given rest until the 22nd December meaning Pandya and Agarwal will have three days to make a claim into the playing XI.

Early reports suggest the pitch at the Melbourne is likely to be batting friendly meaning Hardik Pandya could come into equation immediately. But it is Agarwal that is a more of a curious case.   The form of KL Rahul and Murali Vijay is the biggest concern ahead of the Boxing Day Test.   It is in the opening department that India need a quick fix, but will the team management be eager to throw Agarwal into the deep end and if so who does he replace?

Agarwal has been in scintillating form in the past 18 months scoring in excess of 2000 runs across all formats.   He scored 53 in his last innings for Karnataka before being called up for Australia to replace Prithvi Shaw.   Add to that Agarwal had scores of 65, 42 and 42 on India’s A tour of New Zealand last month.   If there was a right time to pick him it would be now but facing Gujarat bowlers in Surat and confronting the Australian pace batters along with Nathan Lyon is a different kettle of fish.

At the post-match press conference when a journalist tried to bring up the possibility of a new opening combination Kohli quickly stated: “We didn’t announce that we are going to have a new opening combination.”

Vijay is expected to be given a longer rope especially given that after the England series he told the press that the constant shuffling created some doubts in his mind. Vijay looked at his best during the second innings in Perth until he attempted an ambitious drive off Nathan Lyon.

It is KL Rahul’s case that could prompt the team management to trial Agarwal.   Watching Rahul in the lead-up to Perth, it is clear that his mind is scrambled and he is over thinking about his game.   Rahul has only one century and one fifty to his name in his past 22 innings, but sources close to the team suggest that Rahul is still in good space.

Perhaps it will be the presence of his close friend Agarwal that can inspire Rahul to rediscover his touch or it could be Rahul that could makes way for the flamboyant Agarwal. With this current team management, anything is possible. But unless India gets the opening balance right then Australia will start as favourites in front of their home crowd.



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