Mohammed Siraj
Mohammed Siraj
Photo via Twitter

Melbourne: Stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane will lead a depleted India into the second Test starting Saturday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), the venue where they sealed their historic Test series in 2018-19.

The challenge this time is huge not just because of the demoralising eight-wicket loss India suffered in the first Test after getting shot out for 36 in the first Test in Adelaide but also because of the absence of four of the star performers from the 2018 Boxing Day Test team.

While skipper Virat Kohli (82 in first innings) is back in India to attend the birth of his child, Rohit Sharma (63 not out) is under quarantine and can't play. Pace bowlers Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami (who shared six wickets, 3 each) are out due to injuries.

As against this, Australia have their full bowling strength and with the return of Steve Smith, who missed the series last time due to a ban following the ball-tampering scandal, the Aussies look a far better and balanced side.

India are going in with the best side possible in the circumstances. With the return of left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, who missed the first Test as he was unfit, India have an all-round option -- someone who can bowl as the fifth bowler and also bat at No. 7 or No. 8.

Opener Shubman Gill replaces Prithvi Shaw, who aggregated just four across two innings in the first Test. Gill is an aggressive opener and aggregated 127 in the warm-ups, including a half-century.

Right-arm pace bowler Mohammad Siraj will make his Test debut and will replace Shami whose bowling arm was fractured on the third day of the first Test and has since returned to India. Wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, who returned with scores of 9 and 4 in the first Test, has been replaced by Rishabh Pant.

India had beaten Australia by 137 runs in the MCG Test in 2018, with the batsmen frustrating and tiring the Aussie bowlers for 169.4 overs and making 443 for seven. But 2018 was a slightly different wicket then.

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