India have an unenviable task of avoiding the prospect of relinquishing their grip on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy when they square off against Australia in the third Test of the four-match series at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) here .
Having lost the first two Tests, India would be aware that another loss would help Australia reclaim the coveted trophy they are competing for.
But despite the ominous stare at another humiliation and the lopsidedness of the contest that the 2-0 scoreline suggests, it hasn’t been all too easy for the hosts.
On the contrary, the series has seen an intriguing contest. The Adelaide Test produced a compelling battle on the backdrop of utmost grief and sadness following the untimely death of Phillip Hughes. Brisbane was an extension of that competitiveness.
For Australia, it’s simply a matter of producing more of the same at Melbourne despite having to rejig the winning combination due to the absence of the injured Mitchell Marsh. The 25-year-old Joe Burns will take his place, as is fit-again pacer Ryan Harris instead of Michell Starc.
Australian skipper Steven Smith Thursday cleverly intensified the mind games, saying that India are “whingeing and complaining among themselves”, turning the focus towards the visitors’ on the question of sledging.
“At the moment, the Indians are doing that themselves. They’re doing a lot of whingeing and complaining among themselves. They’re doing it all for us. Hopefully that can hinder them this week,” he said.
India though have more pressing issues to address, beginning with the form of opener Shikhar Dhawan and middle-order batsman Rohit Sharma, whose only ‘contribution’ so far has been to fire up opponent pacer Mitchell Johnson with some unsolicitated sledging.
He seemed clueless in the middle, a far cry from his record-breaking One-Day International (ODI) knock of 264 at the flat track of Eden Gardens.
Dhawan’s tour has taken a similar route, with no worthwhile contribution with the bat. But more alarming is the shambolic way in which his arm injury of a spurred up Johnson delivery was handled, giving birth to a petty controversy that threatens to unsettle the team, as a fallout of the usually astute skipper’s surprising “unrest” comment.
Dhoni was quick to downplay the effects of his revealing comment, saying reports of a dressing room disquiet were “made up stories”, also defending his team’s ploy of sustained chattering on the field.
“There haven’t been any formal complaints from our side so far. If I respond to that – it won’t be an adequate response,” Dhoni said, when told about Smith’s comments.
“I feel a bit of chirping is good on the field. That’s what makes cricket interesting. If the guidelines are followed, I’m not really bothered. The chirping has nothing to do with our performance.”
India failed to grab the initiative at the Gabba when Australia were 247 for six, and allowed the tail to wag doggedly, missing a wonderful opportunity to set Australia a more imposing fourth innings target.
That should be more painful than the defeat, as they did all the hard work diligently to show that Australia are vulnerable if subjected to pressure.
Another formidable hurdle in their path comes in the batting form of opener David Warner and rookie skipper Steven Smith, for whom the burden of captaincy has been inspiring rather than overwhelming.
But scratch the surface and their wounds get exposed, with none apart from these two batters among runs.
Burns’ inclusion could have given under-pressure No.3 Shane Watson respite, who could have been demoted to the number six position, but Smith ruled out that possibility.
“Shane Watson’s best suited at the top of the order. Joe will slot in at No.6,” he said.
“Burns gets his opportunity on Boxing Day and it’s going to be a very special week for him.”
India’s ability to keep their concentration intact throughout every session of the five days and win key moments could be questioned. They can’t call upon the ball-swinging abilities of Bhuvneshwar Kumar either, as he is yet to be match fit.
But they should be wiser after their failures, hoping their quick men can threaten Australia’s top order again and give them that ray of hope they desperately seek.