The Indian bowlers were at the top of their game throughout the day on a helpful MCG wicket to fold the Aussies for 195 runs in the first innings. While a small passage of the game saw Ajinkya Rahane employing questionable tactics, he was largely brilliant in his decisions with his calm disposition.
Thank you, Matt Page
Be it the Melbourne Cricket Ground or Junction Oval, be it a Boxing Day Test match or a Sheffield Shield game, the Victorian wickets have become roads for nearly a decade now. Batting rules the roost and if anything, the kind of gripping contest you get in other parts of Australia has become a dream in Melbourne. But this was set to change.
Aided by Matt Page’s visionary planning to leave 11mm grass on the pitch made it a perfect outing for the bowlers and tested the batsman's defense more than they would have liked. As Trent Copeland revealed on Twitter an 11mm grass at the G is comparable to a 6mm grass at the Adelaide Oval due to the nature of the drop-in wickets, it acted as the perfect charm both for Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin.
The wicket also burst the myth about grass never aiding a spinner, with Ashwin getting good enough turn to trouble almost all batsmen coming face to face with him. He just held to his line and instead of navigating with an expanded field, he followed the Lyon template to force the batsmen to try and play him. Bumrah, however, was operating at a whole different level and didn’t give a single bad ball in the first hour, making everyone forget that he was operating two of his regular partners.
The wicket played a big part in all of this happening and that’s certainly the way you would like it in Melbourne. Thank you Page for that
Lured by options, Rahane lets his instinct pass for a while
Of course, when you raise the expectation level, you will be held to a standard. In another era, this would have been a majestic outcome but India would squarely be blamed for the way they let the game slip - even for a bit - in the second session.
Ajinkya Rahane is an aggressive captain who trusts his spinners as much as pacers, so it was natural when he brought R Ashwin into the attack in just the 11th over of the game for which he reaped rich dividends. He attacked with Bumrah from the other end to create more wicket-taking options that put the team under the pump.
But the second session brought more questions than usual. With Australia looking to build a small partnership after being three-down for 38, Marnus Labuschagne was troubled by Bumrah and Ashwin but in the second session instead of searching for a wicket, Rahane employed debutant Mohammed Siraj from the other end. Ravindra Jadeja let the pressure loose from one end, creating a comfortable position for the Aussies.
He was quick to understand what he was falling into and, before it was too late, he brought his premier pacer back who dismissed Travis Head to bring India back to the game. But in the heart of it, India would rue the fact that it could have been so much more. But this needs to be mentioned that this passage of play was just a blip on a day Rahane was astute as a captain and tactically on point which India desperately hoped for after the Adelaide debacle.
Mohammed Siraj and a debut day to remember
It takes a lot to be Mohammed Siraj. It is only he who can comprehend what it is to be like him or at least in his shoes. But anyone, who is not sold by the IPL theatre, will surely vouch for the fact that he deserves every single bit of adulation that would come his way today and beyond. It was generous of Ajinkya Rahane to let him lead the team to the dugout after tea but in the bigger picture, he must have started fantasizing about many such days in the future.
For over half a decade, Mohammed Siraj has been a delight to watch in red-ball cricket. Be it that path-breaking Ranji season in 2015-16 or taking heaps of wickets for India A in every single trip he has had, Siraj has always been a long-format dominator. Yet a debut took as long as it has ever been. But what a fantastic day it was!
He was guilty of bowling from over the wicket to Travis Head despite the left-hander having serious problems against the ball coming from round the wicket. That released some pressure but as soon as Bumrah brought the pressure back in the next spell, Siraj was a delight to watch. Marnus Labuschagne’s wicket followed the Smith template but Siraj could only claim that because he was persistent in his approach. The best one, however, was that of Cameron Green.
Leading to the wicket, the Hyderabadi bowled four consecutive away-swing deliveries and then bowled a seam-up which didn’t move at all. The ploy was set for Cameron Green to play away from the body for an outswinger but by sharply bringing the ball back in, Siraj left Green in a lurch. The wicket talked a lot about a bowler confident about his ability and what he can do in the future.