How I’d make Australia better
INDIA will attempt to stretch Australia past breaking point today, but we haven’t reached that juncture yet.
With a 166-run lead and seven wickets still in hand, the Indians would have slept well last night in the knowledge that they are in front with three days played.
A target of 280 or more should be out of Australia’s reach in the fourth innings. The home side will give themselves a chance if they could chase 250, with Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh the keys to any successful run chase.
But that scenario is under 100 runs away now, so the Aussies will need to produce something special with the ball this morning.
The teams found it quite difficult to even reach their moderate first-innings tallies of 250 and 235 and the ball is spinning more as the match progresses. Run rates have been slow throughout so it’s clear this is not an easy wicket to bat on.
India got through a pretty tough period when Nathan Lyon and Pat Cummins were operating together yesterday and they will be full of confidence coming into day four.
The tourists’ strong mindset was underlined when Ajinkya Rahane came to the wicket with four overs remaining, rather than sending in a nightwatchman. It was a strong statement and a message to Australia — we’re not scared.
Australia have Lyon to thank for remaining in the game. The way he bowled yesterday was absolutely outstanding. His rhythm was superb as was his control of both line and length.
I would have loved to have seen the point fieldsman come up as an extra catcher under the helmet, forcing the batsmen to try to hit him through point and cover.
One piece of good news is that the footmark Lyon was aiming at yesterday won’t be a huge problem for the Aussie left-handers against Ravi Ashwin. It will be interesting to see how Ashwin goes about his work to the right-handers.
Regardless of what transpires from here in Adelaide, I would retain the same Australian XI for the second Test at Optus Stadium. One Test into a four-match series is not the time to even consider bringing anyone else in.
This squad was picked with an eye to the first two matches and you’ve got to give guys a chance. Players can become very insecure if the first reaction is to chop and change.
What I would do is shuffle the batting order.
Aaron Finch did a good job as an opener in the UAE, but in Australia where the ball bounces and seams a bit more I would prefer to see him bat at No.5 and everyone else move up from there.
In Perth, I would open with Khawaja and Marcus Harris, with Marsh moving up to three, Peter Handscomb batting at four, Finch at five and Travis Head remaining at six.
The Aussies even have the option of changing the order for what promises to be a tough fourth innings run chase in Adelaide. But making a change during a Test match would probably be admitting to the Indians that we have a weakness.
It’s worth backing Finch to open again.
Finch, who opens the batting for Australia in one-day and Twenty20 cricket, shouldn’t feel disconcerted if he is dropped down the order. The middle order is generally where he bats for Victoria in the Sheffield Shield and he has done well there.
The Marsh situation is difficult for me to write about because I am close to him and I would love to see him score some runs. When he’s going, he’s one of the best batsmen in the world to watch.
What I want to see from Shaun is for him to stride out to the crease in the second innings and puff his chest out. Show that he is the man and really get in the contest.
We see him do it in shield cricket all the time. He walks out there and you just know that when he’s on he’s going to smash guys around the park. He’s not timid and he plays his shots.
He is often called a nervous starter but I think most batsmen are. The fact is his technique is one of the best going around. His issues can come when he becomes a bit timid and over-thinks things.
There were some positive signs in the first innings of our batting, including the way Harris played on debut. He came out and was positive with his leaves and then when he played his shots he didn’t try to over-hit anything.
He probably got a little bit bogged down by Ashwin, who we know has an extremely good record against the left-handers. He tried to hit a couple over the top and spread the field, but Ashwin was tough to get away and he eventually got him.
The other positive was the way Travis Head played. He looked confident, was patient and rotated the strike well.
‘‘ I would retain the same Australian XI ... what I would do is shuffle the batting order.
Spin out: Nathan Lyon, who has kept Australia in the game, appeals for the wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara as Virat Kohli looks on. Top, Shaun Marsh on the attack.