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Player of the Match
Player of the Match

Flawed teams face festive Test

Match facts

December 26-30, 2014, Melbourne
Start time 1030 local (1130 GMT)

Big picture

Depending on who you ask, Australia have so far been either slightly fortunate or exceptionally resourceful, and India either lacking in luck or deficient in perseverance. What this divergence of opinion says is that the current margin of 2-0 obscures greater complexities in the two sides and where they currently sit. The hosts have leaned heavily on their nascent captain Steven Smith and brazen opener David Warner, while Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Johnson have taken turns with the ball. Shane Watson and Brad Haddin have been doing much of the leaning, while Michael Clarke will be in Melbourne as a commentator rather than captain.

India have shown promise, only to break it at critical times. Virat Kohli and M Vijay have been exceptional with the bat and Ajinkya Rahane, Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara intermittently useful. But there have still been enough batting collapses to keep victory out of reach. Similarly, the bowlers have shown signs of unsettling Australia, but seldom have they done so with the new ball or against the tail. The looming inclusion of Bhuvneshwar Kumar may help add some solidity here. A fraying of Indian patience, evident through Brisbane fracas over practice pitches and food, must be scotched by MS Dhoni.

The third character in the drama this week will be the MCG, its cavernous expanses and idiosyncratic pitch likely to offer chances to both sides and most disciplines. This was the venue where India came closest to unseating Australia in 2011-12 - they looked good for a vast first innings lead until Peter Siddle burst through Sachin Tendulkar's attempted drive on the second evening. But it is 33 years since India won a Test at the MCG, and the Australian will to dominate the biggest day of their cricket calendar is invariably strong.

Form guide

Australia WWLLW
India LLLLL

In the spotlight

Coming up to the 10th anniversary of his Test debut, Shane Watson returns to the MCG, his most productive ground by a distance. This is just as well, because Watson's recent struggles and the emergence of Mitchell Marsh have made questions about his value more pertinent than ever. It is conceivable that a quiet match in Melbourne could see Watson tipped out of the Test team for Sydney, should Marsh be fit and Joe Burns make a productive start. So there will be plenty of eyes on Watson over the next five days.

As Ricky Ponting has pointed out, MS Dhoni has a vexing task on his hands to stave off feelings of frustration and irritation among his tourists in unfamiliar parts of the world. He has of course become familiar with these issues on previous tours, but as India develops a team that might be capable of winning away from home sooner rather than later, attitude is all important. A more specific job Dhoni must undertake in Melbourne is to try to coax more runs from India's tail. For all the feats of M Vijay and Virat Kohli thus far, a lack of lower order support has allowed Australia to keep ahead.

Team news

Alongside the debutant Joe Burns, Ryan Harris is also set to return in place of Mitchell Starc. David Warner has shrugged off a badly bruised thumb and has also been spotted reviving his leg breaks in the nets. Shaun Marsh is also fine after a knock in training.

Australia (probable) 1 Chris Rogers, 2 David Warner, 3 Shane Watson, 4 Steven Smith (capt), 5 Shaun Marsh, 6 Joe Burns, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Ryan Harris, 10 Josh Hazlewood, 11 Nathan Lyon.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar is fit again and KL Rahul and Suresh Raina are pushing hard, but India look likely to retain the attack.

India (probable) 1 M Vijay, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 MS Dhoni (capt,wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar/Varun Aaron, 10 Umesh Yadav, 11 Ishant Sharma.

Pitch and conditions

Melbourne's drop-in pitch will offer some early seam movement before drying out and likely offering assistance for reverse swing through its abrasive surface. Weather for the week is forecast to be moderate.

Stats and trivia

  • Joe Burns will be Australia's fifth debutant in 2014, following Alex Doolan, Mitch Marsh, Steve O'Keefe and Josh Hazlewood.

  • India's last win against Australia at the MCG took place in February 1981. Defending a target of 143, Karsan Ghavri, Dilip Doshi and Kapil Dev razed Greg Chappell's side for a mere 83.

  • With 323 runs in two Tests, M Vijay is more than halfway to Rahul Dravid's series aggregate record for an Indian batsman in Australia - 619 in the four Tests of 2003-04.

Quotes

"Four-nil would be nice, but you got to take each game as it comes."
Steven Smith

"What's more important is to play good cricket and I feel we are doing that. But we are not crossing the line, which is vital in five days of Test cricket. We feel we are close, but at the same time it will have to reflect in our performance."
MS Dhoni

  • 'Sometimes we're too harsh on our bowlers' - Kohli

    Virat Kohli began the task of captaining India full time by throwing his weight behind his bowlers, saying the batsmen need to share some of the blame for India's failures

  • Memo to Virat Kohli

    India's new captain needs to realise talking is sweet but winning sweeter

  • Just what is the Australian way?

    It's not as easily defined as just saying it is about playing positive, aggressive cricket at all times

  • How Johnson rose above all to create magic

    When the clock is ticking but the drop-in pitch is refusing to misbehave, when everything is hitting the middle of the bat, you need a man to rise above the conditions, you need some magic. On day five in Melbourne, Mitchell Johnson created magic

  • Give this team 12 months - Shastri

    India's team director Ravi Shastri believes "the scoreline does not matter" so long as the team continue to show their attacking intent and push their opponents

Home field advantage

13

This draw ends 13 consecutive Tests between Australia and India all won by the home side, going back to a draw in Delhi, October 2008

Rare Draw Coming Up?

17

Number of years since a Test has been drawn at the MCG. The last drawn Test was between SA and Aus in 1997

Just Missing Out

499

Runs scored by Virat Kohli in this series. No overseas No. 4 batsmen has scored 500 runs in a series in Australia.

Run batsmen run

57

Number of 3s run by batsmen in this Test (at tea). Since 2001, the record for the most 3s in a Test is 58 (Aus v Ind, Adelaide, 2003)

A Boatload

848

Runs scored by Australia in this Test, the third-most by either team in Tests between India and Australia

Don't Run on 99 at the MCG!

3

Shaun Marsh's is the 3rd instance of an Australia batsman getting run out on 99 - all three of them have come at the MCG.

Indian Record

9

Number of dismissals collected by MS Dhoni in this Test - India's record for the most dismissals in a Test by a wicketkeeper.

Declare already?

234

Most runs scored on day 5 by a team batting fourth at the MCG in the last 40 years.

Maiden at home

0

Number of fifties Shaun Marsh had got in nine Test innings in Australia before today.

Ishant joins a club

8

Number of Indian bowlers who have taken 300+ international wickets; Ishant Sharma became the eighth

Bunny

7

Number of times Watson has been dismissed by Ishant Sharma in Tests, averaging 19.85 runs per dismissal.

Struggle

8.66

Shane Watson's batting average against R Ashwin in six Test innings; has been dismissed thrice in 55 balls.

Better later

41.70

Chris Rogers' batting average in the second innings as opposed to his average of 30.50 in the first.

Second-innings specialists

4

Second-innings century stands by Rogers and Warner - no other pair has put on more such partnerships in Tests since 2000.