Over the ages MCG has not really been a happy hunting ground for the Indian cricketers. They have lost as many as 8 of the 12 Tests they have played here, winning just 2. Here is a brief outline of the previous Tests played by India at the venue. This is the third and final episode of the three-part series….
Also Read: The story of India at Melbourne – Part 1
Also Read: The story of India at Melbourne – Part 2
1999-2000 Australia won by 180 runs
It was a new India, packed with batsmen on their way to achieving legendary stature. But, in 1999, when India reached the Australian shores, they were still very much a one-man army, especially overseas. The visitors were trounced 3-0. Skipper Sachin Tendulkar battled alone with 278 runs at 46.33 in the series, with a hundred and two fifties. However, the rest of the vaunted batting line-up contributed next to nothing, and often just nothing.
Rahul Dravid averaged 15.50 for his 93 runs, Sourav Ganguly started out well but fizzled to 177 at 29.50, and VVS Laxman, while hitting a magnificent 167 in the last innings of the tour as a burning-deck effort, managed 54 in the other five innings. The opening combinations were disastrous.
Ajit Agarkar was the peak of the bowlers, but his 11 wickets cost 32 apiece. Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad were less than mediocre and Anil Kumble rather pedestrian. When one remembers that the Australian attack comprised of Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Damien Fleming and Shane Warne, the mismatch seems more than obvious.
The Melbourne Test was quite a defining snapshot of the Indian story on the tour. After a demoralising defeat at Adelaide, the Indian side were bordering on the beleaguered by the time they arrived at the MCG.
Rain and a couple of quick wickets snapped up by Srinath made them perhaps a bit sanguine, but after the weather had driven them off the field recurrently through the first two days, the score on the second evening showed 332 for 5. Adam Gilchrist had come in at 197 for 5 and had pulverised the bowling as he would continue to do throughout his career. Ricky Ponting was looking solid as ever.
The Australian innings was stretched to 405 and India started their response just before lunch. At the break, they were already one down. Within the next hour, India lost Laxman and Dravid, the innings reeled at 31 for 3.
It was followed by a display of sublime skill. Tendulkar lodged a lone battle against the McGrath-Lee barrage. The only substantial partnership he had was a 77-run association with Ganguly. It became 108 for 4, 138 for 5, and three quick wickets during a Brett Lee over made it 169 for 8. The follow-on was very much on the cards. But the captain played one of the best innings of his astounding career, counterattacking all the way to his century, departing for a 116-run gem only after making sure that Australia would have to bat again. India totalled 238.
With a lot of overs lost due to weather, there was a possibility of clinching a draw. But Gilchrist, promoted to No 4 to hasten things on, made merry yet again. The Waugh brothers joined the party. Australia declared at 208 with enough time in the fourth day to snare Laxman.
Start on the fifth day was delayed by rain. But immediately on resumption, Sadagoppan Ramesh retired hurt with a sore thumb. By lunch, Dravid and Ganguly were back in the hutch, Tendulkar once again waging his lonely crusade
When Warne trapped the Indian skipper for 52, the rest of the batting had no means to even make an attempt at saving the match. By Tea, India were eight down, and the match ended almost immediately after resumption.
2003-04 Australia won by 9 wickets
By now Border-Gavaskar Trophy had become one of the key events of the cricket calendar. And this series fully lived up to the billing.
Indians were helped no doubt by the hosts fielding the worst bowling attack since 1977-78. McGrath missed the series because of injury, Warne because of other reasons. Brett Lee was not fit for the first two Tests. It turned out to be a slugging match between two teams of superb batsmen who faced lukewarm bowling all through.
The first Test at Gabba ended in a tall-scoring draw. The second at Adelaide saw India pull off a memorable win buoyed by one of the great Dravid-Laxman partnerships and a freak six-wicket haul by Ajit Agarkar.
Jason Gillespie missed the third Test at Melbourne, but Brett Lee was back. But, by Tea on the first day, it seemed that was not going to make much of a difference. Virender Sehwag had bludgeoned his way to a thrilling hundred and was batting on 137. India were 219 for one.
The post-Tea session saw Australia fight back. Dravid was dismissed by the canny part-time medium pace of Steve Waugh. Tendulkar, struggling for form, was out first ball to Lee. And Sehwag, with the bowlers at his mercy, hit a rank long hop from Simon Katich down the throat of long on for 195. But 329 for 4 was a healthy score at the end of Day One.
However, on the following morning, India, from 350 for 4, lost the last six wickets for 16. 366 was way less than what they had looked like getting. With Matthew Hayden blasting a hundred, and Ricky Ponting cruising to his second double hundred on the trot, Australia overhauled the total with just four wickets down. Finally, they were dismissed for a mammoth 558. By the end of the third day, India had lost their opening batsmen rather cheaply.
Dravid and Ganguly got half-centuries in the second innings, Tendulkar compiled a sedate 44 before going for an expansive cover drive. But the Indian total of 286 left the Australians just 95 to get on the final day. Riding on a hard-hitting Hayden, they wrapped it up before lunch.
The series went on to Sydney where a Tendulkar double hundred and a Kumble haul of 12 wickets notwithstanding Australia managed a draw. The series ended 1-1.
2007-08 Australia won by 337 runs
It was to be a highly contentious series. Charges levelled at one of the sides during the infamous Bodyline tour would be repeated here. Australia would triumph 2-1 in the end, but both the teams would leave the scene amidst rancour, court cases, allegations of racial slurs, and bitter tastes in the mouth.
But all that was yet to come. For the first time, the series started off at Melbourne. And after Hayden repeated one of his devastating performances and Australia put on 135 for the first wicket, India thought they had done a good job in restricting the hosts to 343. Kumble, the captain on this tour, had applied the brakes, with 5 for 84.
Yet, by the end of the second day, Hayden and Jacques were in again, the Indian batting having been blown away by Brett Lee and Stuart Clark. Tendulkar had resisted with 62, but the hosts had gained a 147-run lead.
Australia milked the bowling through the third day, Ponting declaring the innings moments from stumps. The 499-run target was unrealistic anyway. India did not manage to get even a third of the way. The miserable story at Melbourne continued with this third defeat on the trot.
2011-12 Australia won by 122 runs
Four years had passed. The problem was that the Indian batting line-up had remained virtually unchanged. Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman … all of them were still there. But they were on their aging last legs as India took on Australia for yet another series opener at Melbourne.
On paper the side led by MS Dhoni was formidable. But as the series went on, the hard truth hit home. It would be the swansong of Dravid and Laxman, and not a very happy one. Tendulkar and Sehwag would continue for a bit, but not anywhere near the forces they had once been. Virat Kohli was the only new face in the outfit, but he would not get going till the second half of the series.
The result was a 4-0 rout in favour of Australia. The initial expectations had been of a much closer contest.
During the first two days of the Melbourne Test, however, things looked to be going India’s way. Thoughtful bowling by Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav and Ravichandran Ashwin restricted Australia to 277 for 6 at stumps on first day. They managed to get to 333, quite an improvement from 214 for 6, much of it because of a resolute 41 by Peter Siddle. But the total was hardly imposing.
Moments before close on the second day, India stood on 214 for 2. Sehwag had blasted his way to 67. Dravid was unbeaten on 68, Tendulkar on 73. It seemed there was life in the old Indian batting yet. But with three balls to go for close of play, Siddle beat the blade of Tendulkar and the ball crashed into the stumps.
With the second ball of the following morning, Dravid was castled by Ben Hilfenhaus. The collapse went unchecked as Hilfenhaus, Siddle and James Pattinson ran through the innings. India were all out for 282, conceding a lead of 51.
A determined Indian bowling fought back , Umesh Yadav striking three times, leaving Australia tottering at 27 for 4. But Ponting and Michael Hussey hit half-centuries, and the age-old problem of letting the tail wag came back to haunt the Indians yet again. From 166 for 8, Australia clawed their way to 240, Pattinson and Hilfenhaus getting some crucial runs down the order.
The 292-run target was imposing, but not impossible. At least for the first few minutes. But two hours later, India had lost the vaunted top six, with only 81 on the board. The lower order rallied to 169, but it was more a tale of desperate slogging than a concerted effort.
2014-15 Match drawn
Two hundreds by Virat Kohli, deputising as captain for MS Dhoni, were not enough at Adelaide as a fascinating Indian chase ended with Australia winning by 48 runs. Dhoni was back at the helm in the second Test at Brisbane, but a first innings score of 408 could not prevent a 4-wicket defeat.
The results were closer than in 2011-12, but another whitewash loomed on the cards. When captain Steven Smith hit 192 at Melbourne and Australia finished their first innings with 530, the chances of the lead being stretched further seemed even brighter. But a 262-run association between Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, took the fight to the Aussies.
Rahane hit 147, Kohli 169, but from 408 for 3 India did collapse to 465 all out. By the end of the fourth day, Australia were 326 ahead with 3 wickets standing.
They batted on for 23 overs on the rain-affected final morning, declaring 9 down with a 384-run target in far too few overs for India to make a realistic attempt. But when the visitors lost Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul within 14 balls, and then Vijay in the ninth over, the chances of 3-0 loomed high yet again.
However, Kohli and Rahane got together again for an 85-run stand that steadied the ship. Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara played through crucial overs. And in the end, MS Dhoni and Ravichandran Ashwin batted through the final half hour. Fittingly so, because after the match Dhoni announced his retirement from Test cricket.