India succumbed to their lowest score ever in Test cricket and were bowled out for a mere 36 in the second innings of the Day and Night series' opener at the Adelaide Oval, ultimately going down by 8 wickets to give Australia a 1-0 lead in the four-match series. To make matters worse, their lead pace bowler, Mohammed Shami, who received a blow on his arms from Pat Cummins, has been ruled out of the remaining three Tests. There are a number of other issues that the Indian think tank needs to contemplate on ahead of the big Boxing Day Test which starts at the MCG on the 26th of December. We highlight some of the things team management needs to try and sort out.
THE FORM OF PRITHVI SHAW AND WILL HE BE REPLACED BY GILL?
Prithvi Shaw faced all of six deliveries in Adelaide before his questionable technique against the Pink Ball got the better of him. He drove an inswinger from Starc on the rise with a gap between bat and the front leg with half a stride and that led to his downfall for a duck in the first innings. In the second innings, it was the age-old problem that Shaw has faced over his entire career that led to his dismissal - he left a big yawning gap between bat and pad to a good length delivery by Cummins which landed on the seam, jagged back to go through his defense and rattled the stumps. The opener was out for 4.
As talented as Shaw is and as fine a stroke-maker he might be, there are faults in his defensive technique which get accentuated overseas. There are two basic flaws in his technique - he pokes at deliveries outside the off stump which ideally, especially in trying conditions he should leave - he is playing far too many shots to good quality fast bowling, and he also has a problem with the ball that nips back and comes in. Another added problem is related to his high back lift - it often takes time for him to get his bat down quickly especially when he is facing high quality pacers in fast and bouncy conditions as in Australia.
Pundits often compare Shaw to Sehwag but the youngster needs to remember that the Nawab of Najafgarh was once in a generation player - extremely gifted with great natural hitting prowess. Not many in the history of Test cricket match his ability.
Shaw was out for a duck in the first innings and scored 19 in the second in India's first tour match against Australia A in Sydney. He got a quick 40 in the first innings in the second Tour match but only 3 in the second.
Shaw also had a dramatic decline in form mid-way into the IPL where he registered scores of 19, 4, 0, 0, 7, 10, 9 and 0 in his last 8 innings.
There is a big possibility that Shaw will be replaced by Shubman Gill at the top of the order for the Boxing Day Test. Gill is yet to represent India in Test cricket but has a fantastic record in first-class cricket - an aggregate of 2162 runs in just 22 matches at an average of 69.74 including 7 hundreds. He looked in fine touch in the match against Australia A in Sydney where batting at number three, he scored a fluent 43 off 58 deliveries in the first innings before an equally attractive 65 off 78 in the second. Two things stood out in his innings - his solid technique and surety against fast bowling and his ability to put away the bad deliveries. Gill has been in terrific form for India A in the last couple of years. Since the beginning of 2018, he has aggregated 970 runs in 8 unofficial Tests and his exploits have included two double hundreds.
THE CONTRIBUTION OF INDIA'S LOWER-ORDER
This was one of the major differences between the two sides in Adelaide. Forget the horror of the second innings, India's lower-order (8-11) managed to score just 25 runs between them and faced a total of 41 deliveries only in the first innings. In comparison, Australia, from 111 for 7 added 80 for the last three wickets with the lower-order providing stubborn resistance and standing with their captain Tim Paine which in the final analysis of the match was a game-changing contribution.
The lack of runs by India's tail has been an ever-lasting headache for the Indian team. Since 2018, the collective batting average of India's 8-11 has been a poor 13.1 placing them at number 6 amongst the major Test playing nations. The Indian lower-order has also not occupied the crease for any significant length of time in the last three years. Number 8-11 have faced, on an average, just 18.98 balls per innings - the second-worst on this count after Pakistan.
In low scoring matches overseas, the contribution of the tail is vital and this could come to haunt India in the series. They might look at someone like a Ravindra Jadeja as an option - apart from his effective left-arm orthodox, Jadeja has been in fine form with the bat in the last three years and across formats.
THE INJURY TO MOHAMMED SHAMI
Mohammed Shami has astonishing numbers in Test cricket. His strike rate of 49.9, save your breath, is the best for an Indian pacer in the country's Test cricket history (min. 150 wickets)! This basically means, that Shami is a better strike bowler and has a better propensity to pick wickets than other Indian greats like Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma amongst others. It gets better. His balls/wicket ratio places him at number 11 on an all-time list above all-time legends like Garner, Hadlee, Holding, McGrath, Lillee, Willis, Ambrose and Akram to name a few.
Shami was the second-highest wicket-taker amongst pacers with 16 wickets in 8 innings the last time India toured Australia in 2018-19 and since 2018 has picked 85 wickets in 23 Tests at 24.02 apiece at an even better strike rate of 45.4.
Shami's exit from the remaining three Tests will be a huge blow for India as the team would lose their main strike bowler. He will be replaced by Navdeep Saini or Mohammed Siraj, both of whom are inexperienced and do not have the same skills as Shami. It will also increase the work-load of Bumrah and Umesh Yadav.
THE ABSENCE OF VIRAT KOHLI
Virat Kohli is amongst the two best Test batsmen in contemporary cricket and his absence due to personal leave will be a huge blow to India. In trying overseas conditions Kohli is as good as half the Indian batting line-up - that is how brilliant he has been and that is how crucial he is to India's chances away from home.
Kohli has a great record in Australia - 1352 runs in 13 Tests at an average of 54.08 including 6 hundreds. For visiting batsmen from the subcontinent (min. 500 runs), only Kumar Sangakkara (60.33) has a higher average in Australia than Kohli. Just for perspective, Pujara has a batting average of 51, Tendulkar - 53.2, Gavaskar - 51.11, Younis Khan - 50.63, Sehwag - 46.86, Laxman - 44.14 and Dravid - 41.64 in Australia. Kohli has bettered all their efforts.
India will not have their talisman and also miss the services of their captain in the remainder of the series.
KL Rahul will, in all likelihood replace the Indian captain at number 4. India will hope that Rahul can convert some of his limited-over form into runs in the Test format too.
SAHA OR PANT?
This question will again haunt the Indian selectors ahead of the Boxing Day Test. India desperately needed the unconventional and attacking Rishabh Pant style of batting in the second innings to get them out of the rut. The maverick keeper hit a breathtaking hundred in the tour match in Sydney but was in indifferent form in the IPL.
Doubts remain over his agility behind the stumps and his counterpart, Wriddhiman Saha is widely recognized as one of the best wicket-keepers in Test cricket. But Saha at best can be a grafter in Tests and will not come up with the match-changing knock which Pant can potentially produce. Pant has an average of 38.76 in 13 Tests but what stands out is his strike rate of 68.57. Both his hundreds have come outside India - a brilliant 114 off 146 deliveries at The Oval in 2018 followed by an unbeaten 159 off 189 deliveries at the SCG in 2019.
India have to make a bold decision. On difficult wickets, Pant's aggressive approach can be the game-changer for India.