If Melbourne wants a second Test this summer, they’ve done everything right to get one after serving up a belter of a pitch for Boxing Day.
Aussie top order falls short
Australiaâs Mitchell Starc (2nd R) celebrates with teammates after dismissing Indiaâs Mayan Agarwal (not pictured) on the first day of the second cricket Test match between Australia and India played at the MCG in Melbourne on December 26, 2020. (Photo by William WEST / AFP) / — IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE —
We thought we had seen it all in the weirdest year ever … but then came the first session of the Boxing Day Test.
For two wonderfully combative hours, the much-maligned MCG pitch displayed all the virtues that you would want in a Test match deck.
Melbourne wants a second Test? Well, they can have it if they can reproduce the standard of the first day, on which India’s bowlers grew ever increasing heart from the assistance the lively strip gave them. Australia’s quicks may have been less productive in terms of wickets, but Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood all made the new ball sing.
They will expect to do so again on day two, where Australia start behind in the game but with their chief weapons ready to deploy.
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Make no mistake, day one was the gripping welcome back Test cricket needed at this iconic venue after a dogged year.
Pace, bounce, turn, a little bit of seam but significantly, nothing unfair or treacherous.
It was like going back in time to bygone eras when first sessions were unmissable entertainment as Australia wobbled to 3-65 at the first break, before being bowled out for under 200.
The full measure of this wicket will be known as the match moves into its second and third days (with no guarantee at this stage there will be a fourth let alone a fifth).
Ideally it will yield a few decent scores but at least it’s not boring … the message for curators is don’t be afraid to leave a bit of grass on the deck.
Lord knows, batsmen get so much their way in white ball cricket, it’s a welcome change to see the balance of power shift as it did in the first Test in Adelaide.
Spinners bowled just under half the overs in the first session which was the first time that had happened in an MCG Test for the first time in more than three decades.
When India visited the same venue two years ago and batted first, local audiences groaned from the first couple of overs of the game when some deliveries came through knee height to Tim Paine.
But with curator Matt Page leaving slightly more grass on this deck than the first Test in Adelaide there was no chance of that happening at the MCG where Indian keeper Rishabh Pant was frequently taking Jasprit Bumrah’s best work with his fingers pointing towards the sky.
Until last season’s Test against New Zealand the MCG Test decks were getting a well-deserved reputation for being drab and lifeless.
The difference between captain Virat Kohli, who has his doubts about spin bowlers, and new skipper Ajinkya Rahane, who doesn’t, was evident at the first bowling change when Ravi Ashwin was brought on and immediately gained bounce and turn.
Things mellowed for a time when the ball softened and the seam disappeared.
But the new hard ball in the hands of Cummins set off fireworks that India were in part fortunate, in part skilful in avoiding getting burned.
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