MITCHELL JOHN­SON

How I’d make Aus­tralia bet­ter

The Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - MITCHELL JOHN­SON

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.

Pic­tures: AP

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.

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