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By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE, Dec 26 (Reuters) - India captain Virat Kohli won the toss and elected to bat in the third test against Australia on Wednesday, thrusting new opening pair Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari straight into the Melbourne Cricket Ground cauldron on Boxing Day.
The four-test series is evenly poised at 1-1 after Australia’s victory in the second contest in Perth, with the MCG’s drop-in wicket under scrutiny after producing a lifeless draw in the Ashes series against England last year.
Despite a covering of grass on the pitch, Kohli felt it would flatten over the course of the match.
“It’s going to get slower and slower and tougher to bat on the third and fourth day,” said Kohli.
“We’re taking this one as the last test and we want to be at the top of our game.”
With Ravichandran Ashwin unfit, India have picked spinner Ravindra Jadeja while reinstating the fit-again Rohit Sharma at six in the batting order rather than rushing seam-bowling all-rounder Hardik Pandya back into the lineup.
Australia have replaced out-of-form middle order batsman Peter Handscomb with all-rounder Mitchell Marsh.
Compared to Kohli, Australia captain Tim Paine was less equivocal about whether the pitch would favour the batsmen or bowlers early.
“Wasn’t too sure what I’d have done, but happy to be having a bowl,” he said.
“We think there’ll be a fair bit in this pitch this morning.”
Australia: Aaron Finch, Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (captain), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
India: Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah
Editing by Greg Stutchbury