Before the Perth Test, Virat Kohli’s Indian cricket team was on the ultimate high. They had won the Adelaide Test by 31 runs and had won the first Test of a series Down Under for the first time. India outbatted and outbowled Australia in their conditions. The win promised great signs for India. All the hurt of South Africa and England seemed to have gone away. The wicket in Perth was green and Kohli said the team was more ‘excited’ than ‘nervous’ when encountered with such conditions. However, in five dramatic days, Australia leveled the series with a thumping 146-run win. Kohli was the only player who stood tall amidst the ruins. The rest of the batting suffered and the team fell foul to a common factor that has haunted them on each overseas tour, which is wrong team selection and misreading the conditions.
In Perth, some members of the Indian cricket team admitted that not playing a spinner was a big mistake on the Perth deck. The form of the Indian openers has been a massive concern, with both Murali Vijay and KL Rahul not getting big scores and a partnership. There are some aspects of the batting and the bowling that Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri will have to tinker if they are to win the Melbourne Test and ultimately, the series.
Fast-track Mayank Agarwal, open with Hanuma Vihari
Vijay and Rahul have not had a good run at the top ever since the tour of England. With a string of low scores behind them, playing both batsmen who are low on confidence is not ideal. Kohli can think about giving Mayank Agarwal a chance. If Agarwal makes his debut at the MCG, he will finally get some sort of redemption. Agarwal was called as a back-up to the side only after Prithvi Shaw, who would have definitely played had his ankle injury not healed, was ruled out of the tour. Having amassed over 2000 runs in domestic cricket in 2017/18 and displaying consistency on the India A tours and once again in domestic fixtures, many fans were asking, “What must Agarwal do to get selected?”
Kohli can inject some fresh life into the side by getting Agarwal to open with Hanuma Vihari, who displayed good technique against the Australian bowlers on a bouncy Perth wicket. Vihari can lend solidity to the top order and can help play out the new ball period, something what Aakash Chopra did brilliantly during the 2003/04 series.
Play a spinner
On overseas tours, playing an all-out pace attack has not proven to be beneficial for the Indian cricket team. If Johannesburg gave them success, Perth in 2012 and 2018 has proven to be the opposite. The MCG wicket might not be as helpful to the bowlers as the Perth wicket and Kohli must play a spinner. If Ravichandran Ashwin gains full fitness, he can be a direct replacement for Umesh Yadav, who lacked consistency. With Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah bowling brilliantly, Ashwin replacing Umesh will give the Indian cricket team plenty of depth when it comes to batting and bowling. Ravindra Jadeja, who played well in the England series, might have to wait until the Sydney Test for his opportunity.
Rahane must contribute
In both the Test matches, India was benefited by a big knock from one player. Cheteshwar Pujara did it in Adelaide while Kohli did it in Perth. The Indian cricket team would have benefited a lot more had they gotten one more major contribution from one of the batsmen. Ajinkya Rahane has hit two fifties but he has been guilty of throwing away a good start. In Perth, his dismissal in the first over stalled whatever momentum India had built on the second day. If one or two batsmen in addition to Kohli or Pujara contribute, India’s batting can put Australia’s bowlers under immense pressure.
India have not won a Test at the MCG since Kapil Dev’s brilliant 5/28 with an injured groin gave India a 59-run win in 1981. All is not lost for Kohli despite the Perth defeat. India have a chance to erase 27 years of pain as they look to bounce back.