India were always going to be up against it. The pink ball. Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc storming in. It's fair to state that not many expected India to win. But 36 all out was not in the wildest dreams of even the most critical fans or experts.
There aren't many ways a team can rise up from a low as massive as this to stage a miraculous comeback, especially if your batting mainstay and skipper is unavailable. But India have no other choice, do they? They've always been accused of being terrible travellers, but the recent record, while poor, does not really reflect how they have played.
The quality is still around and the squad depth is strong enough to stage a reasonable counterattack. But for that, they need to do something they have rarely done right on away tours — pick the right playing XI.
Analysing what went wrong at Adelaide and reflecting on the possible changes would also mean accounting for the gaping hole left by Kohli and now, Mohammed Shami, who has been ruled out of the entire series. But, there are a few things India could do that would force Australia to change their plans.
Open with Pujara….Yes, Che
He basically faces the new ball anyway a lot of times on these away tours. He's a solid batsman with a sound judgment outside his off-stump and a pretty neat technique. There are multiple reasons why Pujara opening could serve India well.
Mayank Agarwal and Pujara are both restrained in their methods in this format with the former capable of upping the ante and counterattacking too if needed. Blunting the new ball, which India have struggled to do, is effective especially when you have a fragile middle-order.
Secondly, Australia's ploy to Pujara has been clear. They bowl at his stumps or on his pads with a leg gully in position. Bowling straight and looking for movement into him is to exploit the possible gap he leaves between bat and pad these days. But with the new cherry, it comes with a risk; the batsman could well flick and play around on the leg-side effortlessly and the new ball would go to waste.
The Shubman Gill Question
This really should not even be a question. Gill should play and there's no two ways about it. The question is where. He's a natural at the top of the order and the obvious solution is to plug him in at the expense of Prithvi Shaw, who has fared rather questionably.
But, with Virat Kohli absent and considering that Gill could be thrown into the deep end if asked to open against the brand new ball with Hazlewood, Cummins and Starc handling them in their backyard, it's better to have him in the middle-order.
More than protecting Gill, it's a matter of latching on when the sheen is off the ball, something Gill will be able to do. While Pujara has been pretty solid in the middle-order, India would need someone who can force the Aussies into plan B and C when the new ball is seen off. By swapping Pujara and Gill, arguably into positions they aren't meant for, India solve the need to see off the new ball and make merry once it's indeed off.
The Bowling Attack
To give credit where due, India bowled well in Adelaide. The second innings show was a deflated one, but one could brush that aside as an aftermath of the shock batting performance. To put it straight: It's the bowling attack that would win India the next Test, and wishful thinking, the series.
Their task is cut out, though, as two of their first-choice seamers in overseas Tests - Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma - are unavailable. Umesh Yadav bowled reasonably well with the pink ball, but as the pitch gets placid, Umesh's effectiveness could be restricted to the first few spells or once it starts reversing.
India need an enforcer and while that appeared to be Navdeep Saini at the onset of this tour, it's very likely that Mohammad Siraj would get the nod after the performances of the two pacers in the tour game. Siraj has pace, can swing the ball and can be that enforcer India are searching for in Shami's absence. That partially, on paper at least, solves the Shami hole India need to plug.
Aligning the Middle-order to Push the Aussies Back
With Kohli absent, India need players who can push the Aussies back especially after the new ball is seen off. Gill facilitates that from the middle-order, but they also need a mix of players who can drop anchor and punch back when needed.
Rishabh Pant, who has a century each in England and Australia, and is definitely a better batsman than Wriddhiman Saha, is a no-brainer in the XI. Even if Saha is the better keeper, the pitches aren't devious enough to think that the keeper will drop or miss several chances.
Pant is certainly not as good a keeper as Saha, but he is safe enough to be pushed behind the wicket. His batting will be more than handy, especially if India are looking to have a go at the Aussies rather than restraining themselves.
Rahane is the glue in the middle-order, but they also need some flair and someone who can handle spin. KL Rahul, despite his less-than-ideal performances in Tests previously, could be a good addition to the middle-order. With Gill at 3, Rahul at 4 and Rahane at 5 and Vihari and Pant offering a good mix of steadiness and counterpunching qualities, the batting, on paper, looks good to counter Australia's bowling strengths.