It’s generally unwise to poke the bear. While it is almost admirable that India had the confidence to begin sledging the world’s most physically dangerous quick while he was at the crease, it was remiss of them to forget that Mitchell Johnson can be destructive with both bat and ball. After pelting the Indian attack to all corners of the Gabba, he then ran through their top order to leave the tourists 2-0 down with two to play. The last time India toured Australia they left the Test series winless and a similar whitewash looks likely. Melbourne isn’t overly receptive to visitors.
New captain Steve Smith became a member of a select group at the Gabba, becoming only the fifth man to score a hundred in his first Test innings as captain. Winning the Test in such a dominant manner, despite the reading of the scoreboard, Smith’s captaincy stint is off to a great start. The only blemish is a 60% match fee fine for a slow over rate, and should Smith transgress again, he is in line for suspension. The Australians were under the cosh after day one, conceding 311 and picking up only four wickets. Nevertheless, a rejuvenated Josh Hazlewood set off yet another Indian collapse, the visitors adding only another 97 to their overnight total. Hazlewood, Lyon, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson now all have five wicket hauls on debut, making Australia’s future attack one of promise.
In reply, Australia were reeling at 247/6. Johnson, who went wicketless in the first innings, joined his captain with a massive task ahead. Egged on by a chirpy Indian attack, Johnson thrived on the short ball designed to unsettle him and blazed his way to 88 from 93 balls. The new ball was his undoing but Mitchell Starc shepherded a tail who put on a staggering 195 runs between the final four batsmen. A lead of 97 was the result and as Johnson returned to pick up four wickets in the second innings, Australia were left a mere 128 for victory. They stumbled over the line eventually, but the match was won at the last change of innings. Mitchell Marsh is unlikely to feature on Boxing Day with a hamstring injury and has been replaced by specialist batsman Joe Burns, Shane Watson given the all-rounder responsibility. Ryan Harris will perhaps replace Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle also a consideration.
Shikhar Dhawan, injured in the practice nets and unable to take to the field to resume India’s promising position on day four, will likely recover in time for the Boxing Day Test. He recorded a fifty coming back into the order at number eight after his side had collapsed at the hands of Johnson. This is India’s third such collapse in four innings and they must arrest this habit if they hope to compete in Melbourne. According to MS Dhoni, the players in the squad need more experience in such situations in order to improve. While this may have an element of truth, surviving an attack at full pomp is not always a case of experience but mentality. The fact is that India had been rattled following Dhawan’s injury on the practice wicket and no-one showed the application necessary to weather the storm. Dhoni himself is complicit in the collapse, and he is vastly experienced. However, he is correct in some of his points. This Indian team will become better from this experience of Australia and will be formidable unit away from home in the future.
Melbourne Cricket Ground is another site of success for Australia. In fifteen Tests stretching back to 1999, Australia have only lost two and have drawn none. This is a ground that produces results. In those years, India have lost at the MCG four times, the most recent by 122 runs in 2011. There is a lot to be had for the seamers here, especially as the pitch wears. There may be a touch of rain on the opening morning, making it a good toss to win.
VERDICT: Australia 11/20
While India have had patches of dominance during this series, there is still a huge doubt as the whether they can put in five full days of hard work to get a result. Australia are relentless and should continue their wonderful record at the ground. Their pace battery is simply too destructive to concede heavily in two innings. Get on the Aussies.
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