Injuries a worry for India as battle of top-class Test bowling enters third act

Injuries a worry for India as battle of top-class Test bowling enters third act

They lost key players before the series, they’ve lost a few more since its start, and they’ve been rolled over for their lowest-ever total. It’s a wonder that India is still holding themselves together, never mind level in the series and looking, by some measures, a better side than Australia in their own conditions.

They’ve done this not by becoming more Australian in their approach but by trusting methods that work for them at home: bowling at the stumps rather than in the corridor outside off, and giving themselves insurance by setting strong leg-side fields. Oh, and spin has played as important a role as pace.

But for how long can they keep this run going while losing fast bowlers, one after another, to injury? They played the first Test without Ishant Sharma, played the second without Ishant or Mohammed Shami, and now, at the SCG, will be without Ishant, Shami, and Umesh Yadav. This would be like Australia losing Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, and James Pattinson to injury and being left with Pat Cummins partnering a pair of rookies.

India will need all their parts to work smoothly together, because Australia, for all its flaws, remains a formidable side at home. Thirty-six all out may have been one of the game’s mysterious outliers, a result of the conditions and the planets aligning to turn every error into a dismissal, but it happened primarily because Australia turned in a fast-bowling performance of the highest quality. Their quicks, Cummins in particular, were perhaps just as good with the new ball at the MCG, even if the scorecard didn’t reveal it.

Both teams will have rejigged top orders, with David Warner and Rohit Sharma set to return from injury and Will Pucovski making a highly anticipated debut. Both attacks will have new problems to solve, and if either opening combination can survive the first hour-and-a-half, the tone of the series could be transformed. What Steven Smith and Cheteshwar Pujara would give to start their innings against an older ball, against bowlers in their second spells, and with one or two fewer catchers around the bat.

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