Boxing Day Test: Australia's magnificent bowling masks its fragile batting

The position of batsman Travis Head is uncertain following the Adelaide Test. Photo: Daniel Kalisz/Cricket Australia via Getty Images
The position of batsman Travis Head is uncertain following the Adelaide Test. Photo: Daniel Kalisz/Cricket Australia via Getty Images

The success of Adelaide aside, Australia's batting remains a real concern

Amid the euphoria of an incredible victory over India in Adelaide, Australia's fragile batting line-up remains a major worry for the Boxing Day Test.

Regardless of whether David Warner overcomes his strained groin and opens the batting at the MCG, selectors face a tough decision as the top order failed to perform in testing conditions in the day-night encounter.

Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith are locks for Melbourne, but not so safe is Travis Head at No. 5.

The South Australian left-hander compiled a gritty ton in the Boxing Day Test against New Zealand a year ago, but has passed 50 in only three of his past 15 Test innings and fell to a soft dismissal on his home ground last week.

Labuschagne has performed brilliantly since being elevated to No. 3, but rode his luck to reach 47 in the first innings in Adelaide and played an injudicious shot to be dismissed cheaply in the run chase.

Smith entered the game under a slight injury cloud and should relish being back at the MCG, where he scored tons in his previous four Tests before "failing" with 85 against the Black Caps last summer.

After a horrible start to this season which included a dubious LBW in the first innings, Joe Burns justified the selectors' faith with a determined half-century in the second innings, bringing up the milestone and securing Australia's victory with a six assisted by another dropped catch by the inept Indians.

If Warner returns to partner Burns at the top of the order, what happens to makeshift opener Matthew Wade? Wade did just enough to retain his spot after opening for the first time at first-class level and was unlucky to be run out in the second innings.

He could replace Head at No. 5 and leave Cameron Green at No. 6. The WA all-rounder, with his ability to bowl accurately at a good clip and extract disconcerting bounce, provides the opposition with no respite and ideally complements Australia's world-class attack.

Green is no slouch in the field, as he showed with his juggling catch at gully to remove Indian captain Virat Kohli in the second innings, and a hard-hitting batsman.

Resolute skipper an inspiration

By far the most impressive Australian batsman in the first Test was captain Tim Paine, whose courageous unbeaten 73 paved the way for a remarkable recovery from the home team.

Without Paine's invaluable contribution with the bat as well as taking seven catches behind the stumps, Australia would not have won and he thoroughly deserved man-of-the-match honours, despite the sublime bowling performances by Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood to skittle India for a Test-low 36 in its second innings.

Although he also had his share of luck, Paine displayed a solid technique, excellent concentration and shot selection on a pitch providing variable bounce and movement for the potent Indian attack.

While he is yet to score a hundred in 32 Tests, the tough Tasmanian has the resolve and skill to bat higher than No. 7, but it would be asking too much of him to open the batting, keep and lead at the same time.

Vice-captain Cummins underlined his match-winning qualities in partnership with his NSW teammate Hazlewood.

During an unforgettable 86-minute onslaught on day three, Cummins reached the milestone of 150 wickets in 31 Tests - the same number that past greats Dennis Lillee and Shane Warne took to achieve this mark - while Hazlewood celebrated his 200th Test scalp.

Cummins, Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon must be considered among the most commanding bowling quartets to represent Australia.

Ajinkya Rahane will lead India in Melbourne. Photo: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

Ajinkya Rahane will lead India in Melbourne. Photo: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

Fumbling Indians pay heavy price

While the Australians missed a few chances at Adelaide Oval, they snaffled everything on the decisive third day.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said about the tourists, who let the home team off the hook with sloppy work in the field.

Had they taken their chances against Labuschagne and Paine, their lead on the first innings would have been much greater than 53.

Trailing 0-1 in the series, India faces an uphill battle to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy without Kohli, who has returned home for the birth of his first child.

Ajinkya Rahane takes over the captaincy of a team that is far from settled with form and fitness worries. Shubman Gill looms as Kohli's likely replacement to make his Test debut on Boxing Day.

But like the Australians, there is hot debate about the best opening combination.

Prithvi Shaw failed in both innings in Adelaide, his technique ruthlessly exposed by Australia's pacemen, and his spot is under threat.

The Australians have also refocussed their efforts on No. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, the "wall" that stymied Australia two summers ago, ensuring he is forced to play more balls and banking on him eventually making an error of judgment.

Paceman Mohammed Shami will be a big loss after his right arm was broken while batting.

The tourists hope that all-rounder Ravi Jadeja will return from a hamstring injury to stiffen up the lower-order batting with his powerful hitting and provide some much-needed support from Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav and Ravi Ashwin with the ball for the remaining three Tests.

  • This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas