Published on December 28th, 2018 | by Abhishek Mukherjee1
Not many demons in the MCG pitch; just fast bowling of the greatest order🕓 Reading time: 4 minutes
“And Melbourne, with a 15-wicket day, caught up with Christchurch and Centurion”
Twenty wickets had fallen in the first 91 overs at Christchurch – a wicket every 27.3 balls. At Centurion there were 30 in 163, one every 32.6. Contrast this with Melbourne, where India had put the ground to sleep, at 293 for 2 in the 123rd. Only seven wickets fell in the first two day’s cricket.
Suranga Lakmal jolted New Zealand in the first session at Christchurch. Tim Southee did the same to Sri Lanka in the third. Trent Boult simply blew the tourists away in the fourth. In a different time zone, Duanne Olivier – South Africa’s “reserve” bowler – took 11 wickets and Kagiso Rabada 6; and Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Amir did no less.
The Melbourne pitch posed little trouble. Pat Cummins bounced the ball to get rid of Hanuma Vihari and Mayank Agarwal, but between them, the makeshift opener and the debutant had kept 227 balls out. Pujara had fallen to one that kept unfairly low, but he did not face many other demons in the 319 balls he faced.
It was unlikely that the Test would come to life on the third day. However, that was exactly what happened.
One of the aspects that separate the great bowlers from the also-rans is their ability to make the pitch redundant. Jasprit Bumrah is not great – yet – but he demonstrated exactly why Michael Clarke predicted that he would evolve as the greatest bowler across formats.
In his three overs in the dying moments of Day Two, Bumrah had hurried Marcus Harris with pace, hit him on the helmet, and sent them zipping past edges of both openers. The last ball of the day took Aaron Finch’s edge but fell just short of the slip cordon.
Had the laws of cricket not forced him to leave the field for the day, he would probably have got both men.
Ishant Sharma got Finch out of the way early. Finch flicked an over-pitched ball to mid-wicket. Both sides would follow the strategy later in the day. We shall come to that.
And then Bumrah decided to bounce – why won’t you do that against a batsman hit on the helmet last evening? Harris ducked under one, kept the next one out, and placed the one after that off his hips, past fine-leg for four.
The trap had been set with a slower (than usual) short-pitched ball. The next ball came at the same angle but at greater pace, gathering height quickly. Harris opted for an encore, but this was simply too high; it soared to Ishant at long-leg.
The short mid-wicket stayed put. The leg-trap now included a short square-leg. The batsman needed to be wary of anything on middle-and-leg now, whether pitched up or short. They varied both line and length, Bumrah and Ishant, at serious pace.
Now Kohli got Ravindra Jadeja on. He would bowl 24 out of India’s last 49.5 overs – in other words, play a role very similar to what Ravichandran Ashwin had at Adelaide. He soon got Usman Khawaja out of the way.
Shaun Marsh, en route a recovery from yet another run of poor scores, did well to keep Bumrah out. He was prepared for anything over 140 kph irrespective of line and length.
So Bumrah switched to Plan B: he bowled a slow yorker straight out of the death overs of a limited-overs spell. Marsh’s shot, one that would probably have been perfect to a fast yorker, was too quick for one that refused to come on to the bat.
And when play resumed after lunch, Bumrah bowled Travis Head with a yorker at his usual pace, in excess of 140.
The Victorians were not happy with Mitchell Marsh after he had replaced Peter Handscomb. They had booed him as he bowled. He survived a maiden from Jadeja, bowled at probably two minutes. Then he tried to play Jadeja against the turn and edged.
Mohammed Shami, wicketless till now, decided to have a slice of the cake. He sent down two fast, short deliveries at Tim Paine, hitting him on the box and the pads. The second, as replays revealed, was too high for a leg-before. The last ball came into Cummins and moved away just enough to beat the bat and hit off.
Bumrah returned after tea, properly rested, and had Paine caught-behind. His then bowled short, length, length, short, yorker to get Nathan Lyon, and short, short, yorker to get Josh Hazlewood.
Australia were bowled out for 151, their lowest first-innings total at Melbourne against India. And yet, despite the 292-run lead, despite having Australia on the mat, despite predictions of rain over the last two days, Kohli refused to enforce the follow-on.
But the day still had 27 overs of cricket left. The plans were obvious: India would attack, and Australia would try their best to restrict their onslaught. Yet India held back their big-hitters and opened with Vihari and Agarwal.
Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood had tested the openers on off or middle. The change of plan became evident in Hazlewood’s fourth over, when four balls came into Vihari. Vihari turned three of these towards mid-wicket, and just about kept out the other.
Hazlewood continued with the same line in his next over at both Vihari and Agarwal. Lyon turned the ball into them from outside off. And then Cummins replaced Hazlewood.
Four of Cummins’s balls were aimed at the body or on middle-and-leg. The other two, aimed on off, were both bouncers. A short square-leg had meanwhile sneaked into place.
There was little Vihari could do about the one that got him. The ball rose too fast for him to get away. All he could do was bring his bat to protect himself.
Two balls later Pujara flicked Cummins – the line was leg-stump – to leg-gully. Four more balls later Kohli did exactly the same. And off the next ball, Cummins induced an edge off an admittedly poor leg-stump delivery to get Ajinkya Rahane. The spell read 1.2-1-0-4.
And even then, Rohit Sharma could not resist playing the next ball past leg gully. He got away with a single but was on strike when Cummins started his next over. The first ball yielded another single – past leg-gully.
The line stayed unaltered till Cummins came off. And Hazlewood returned to bowl three consecutive short-pitched leg-side deliveries at Agarwal, rapping him on the gloves with the third. The physio had to be summoned.
Hazlewood had one final go, in the last over of the day. Five balls were on middle- or leg-and-middle.
And Melbourne, with a 15-wicket day, caught up with Christchurch and Centurion.