By Ian Ransom
ADELAIDE (Reuters) – Having gone down swinging in an enthralling Adelaide test, Australia barely have time to pick themselves up off the canvas before another potentially bruising contest against a confident India in Perth.
Tim Paine’s team delivered a gallant performance in a 31-run loss at Adelaide Oval but the scoreline flattered a side that tried their hearts out but still fell short against opponents with a wretched record on Australian soil.
Australia have only three days to correct a litany of problems before the second test starts at Perth Stadium, and many of the issues facing Paine appear to have no quick fix.
The skipper’s fitness is also a concern as he nurses a sore right index finger after being struck on the glove by a short Mohammed Shami ball on the final day of play.
The wicketkeeper-captain, who was treated on the field, later said he would be fine to play in Perth but former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting noted it was the same finger that has required seven separate surgeries in the past.
If Paine proves himself fit to lead, the sore finger might be the least of his concerns.
The absences of the suspended Steve Smith and David Warner were laid bare in Adelaide, where Australia managed only 235 in the first innings and the lower order outscored the top six batsmen in the second innings of 291.
Fears about one-day specialist Aaron Finch’s place at the top of the order were confirmed after Ishant Sharma bowled him for a third-ball duck in the first innings.
He was out for 11 in the second but it could have been even worse had Ishant not overstepped his mark when trapping Finch lbw for a duck with his second ball.
With coach Justin Langer having repeatedly emphasised the need for a solid start from Australia’s top three, Finch seems headed in one of only two directions — down the order or out of the team.
“Finch is obviously the major one (under pressure),” former Australia captain Ian Chappell told local broadcaster Nine Network.
“Whether they go with him as an opener in the second test. He’s the one that’s most under pressure.”
Paine said he wanted to stick with the same 11 for Perth and selectors, who picked a squad for the first two tests, will be reluctant to bring in new names.
But Finch could still find himself out of the side if Australia opt for seam-bowling all-rounder Mitchell Marsh at his home ground in Perth.
The Australian vice captain was overlooked in favour of a sixth specialist batsman in Adelaide but could be recalled for a wicket that is expected to play fast and bouncy.
Australia’s seamers might be grateful for the help, despite an epic support role played by spinner Nathan Lyon, who took six wickets to limit India to 307 in the second innings.
Mitchell Starc led the seamers with five wickets at Adelaide but suffered major control issues during India’s second innings, costing most of his captain’s 21 byes with a slew of wayward leg-side deliveries that flew to the boundary.
For Australia to have hope of levelling the four-match series, they need their pace spearhead’s radar working.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)