MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – With all hope of a first series triumph in Australia gone after defeats in the first two tests, India need to draw on their reserves of pride and motivation to avoid a seventh straight test loss on Australian soil this week.
If the tourists can retain the fighting spirit that has made the Adelaide and Brisbane tests anything but one-sided contests, however, they could record a victory of some significance at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
Since they triumphed in Perth in January 2008, neither side has won a test match in the other’s country with Australia suffering 2-0, 2-0 and 4-0 defeats on the sub-continent and India losing all four tests on their 2011-12 tour.
There have been signs too that Australia, for all the confidence that back-to-back test victories will bring to any side, have a fragility to their batting order that India’s pace attack can exploit.
Prolific opener David Warner has a bruised thumb that could hamper him if he is passed fit to play, veterans Shane Watson and Brad Haddin are in poor form, while injured all-rounder Mitch Marsh has been replaced by the uncapped Joe Burns.
Quite how Australia will line up when the test starts in front of the traditional bumper crowd on Friday is matter of some conjecture with coach Darren Lehmann suggesting Burns could slot in anywhere in the top six.
Against that instability, there is the sparkling form of stand-in skipper Steve Smith and the mercurial menace of paceman Mitchell Johnson, whose performances with bat and ball turned the Gabba test.
Fast bowler Ryan Harris has recovered from a thigh strain and should return in place of left-arm quick Mitch Starc alongside Johnson and Josh Hazlewood, who took 5-68 in his first innings in test cricket.
India look the more settled of the two sides, though, with the fast bowlers working as unit and taking wickets, while the top six batsmen have all got into the runs at some stage of the series.
Just how long the unrest caused by opener Shikhar Dhawan’s decision not to bat on day four in Brisbane after injuring his arm in the nets continues to unsettle Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s dressing room remains to
But if Dhoni, who has been criticised for appearing less than convinced of the importance of the longest form of the game, can lead his team to victory, he could make a considerable addition to his legacy as skipper.
His predecessor Anil Kumble rated the 72-run victory at the WACA in 2008, when India were also 2-0 down in the series, the best of his 132-test career.