26 December 2020 12:39
Watch the Boxing Day Test between Australia and India LIVE on Fox Cricket, coverage starts Sunday at 9:30am AEDT! No pitch in Australia has received as much heat as the one at the centre of the Melbourne Cricket Ground in recent seasons. Three years ago 24 wickets fell across five days in an Ashes Test. Two years ago Tim Paine was gathering the ball on the half volley on the first morning of the match. Then last December, a Sheffield Shield game was abandoned due to the dangerous nature of the wicket.
Watch Australia v India Test Series Live & Ad-Break Free During Play with the Fox Cricket commentary team. New to Kayo? Get your free trial now & start streaming instantly> DAY ONE: Australia hoped to bat India into submission. It backfired, but there's a glimmer of hope TALKING POINTS: Warner can't come back soon enough as Australia's great 'tease' strikes again Wade throws away early wicket 0:45 There has been one game on the MCG since March's Women's World Cup Final, and it was a two-day intra-squad hitout consisting of Victoria's best young players. In many respects, we've never known less about a pitch before the first ball of a Boxing Day Test than we did on Saturday morning. Michael Hussey said on Fox Cricket the groundsman had left 11mm of grass on it, compared to 8mm in Adelaide. Still, Tim Paine decided to bat under clear skies. But by 5pm, the home team was bundled out for 195. The ball seamed, but critically it also spun. Ravi Ashwin – whose record in Australia is modest at best – didn't just make the Kookaburra talk, he made it shout. Steve Smith and Paine himself were thoroughly deceived not just by the parabola, but also by sharp turn. Ashwin's 3-35 from 24 overs was an exhibition in elite finger spin bowling. Aside from the odd exception, most visiting tweakers are defined by containment early in Tests on these shores. Ashwin left the cover region vacant for all right handers from the outset, tempting them into drives against the jag. He didn't overpitch one. There was no let up. READ MORE 'Ball-tracker had one too many shirazes': Marnus' incredible review dumbfounds everyone Australia and India unite in moving tribute to Dean Jones at MCG Test How Melbourne's Christmas wish came true when it needed it most Ashwin sends Smith for a DUCK 0:29 Marnus Labuschagne and Cameron Green both played from inside the ball with some success trying to find the strategically placed gap, while Paine and Smith worked with the traditional spin and paid the price. Ashwin would not have been as effective if the pitch was not turning, or was as dead as it was in the past. But because it was offering him a glimmer of hope, he played a huge role in determining the momentum of day one. Speaking of momentum, is there such a thing from Test to Test anymore? India made four changes to its XI, two of them forced. Whatever scars were left from Adelaide did not appear to be bleeding in Melbourne. After 4.5 days of cricket for the series, we have a far greater appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of Australia and India than we did after 3.5 days. Both teams have ample match-winners, but neither is invincible. All out 36 was an historical anomaly and though India might collapse again this summer, it won't be for such a paltry score. In the absence of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane moved the field and his bowlers superbly. Ashwin flourished under his plans. The quicks were energised all day. It is one thing to recognise a sporting wicket. It's another to make the most of it. The stand-in skipper was shrewd from ball one, with placements specifically designed for each batsman, no matter how unorthodox. India may have recognised that Smith has no obvious weaknesses, so they attacked his strengths. They set an onside field, bowled straight and asked him to hit through mid-wicket and square-leg. FOLLOW ON PODCAST Brad Haddin, Mike Hussey and Tom Morris discuss India's 92 minutes of mayhem and preview the MCG Test TO LISTEN, TAP HERE OR SUBSCRIBE IN ITUNES OR SPOTIFY Though the pieces of the puzzle are in different slots, it was like Stephen Fleming setting three point fielders and a gully for Damien Martyn 20 years ago and then instructing his bowlers to chuck them down short and wide. It worked then as it worked on Boxing Day for the Indians. Above all, for Test cricket to prosper, a good pitch is a non-negotiable. The MCG wicket, which has been much-maligned for some time, was "outstanding," as Shane Warne opined on Fox Cricket. From the surface upwards, the game ebbed and flowed as day one should between two relatively evenly matched teams. India has the upper hand and is one down, just as they were after day two in Adelaide. That alone should teach us to take nothing for granted in sport. Most of all, the hard work the Melbourne Cricket Club curators did to provide a platform for the players to show their skills was Saturday's big winner. And now we have a contest and the series is alive.