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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Melbourne 'boxing day' test - India drops both openers !

Cricket Australia’s most powerful figures have started discussions regarding Steve Smith and David Warner’s reintegration, with a pair of ODIs against Pakistan looming large. Smith and Warner’s year-long bans are set to expire in the middle of a five- match ODI series that will run from March until early April.  All that appears well planned – CA sprung into action before ICC announced the punishment for the crime – and now Cricket Australia (CA) chief executive Kevin Roberts and national coach Justin Langer are both keen to focus on the task at hand, a four-Test series against India that continues on Boxing Day.

The test  match is played at  Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) located in Yarra Park, Melbourne,  home to the Melbourne Cricket Club. It is the tenth largest stadium in the world, the largest in Australia, the largest stadium for playing cricket, and holds the world record for the highest light towers at any sporting venue. The MCG is within walking distance of the city centre and is serviced by the Richmond railway station, Richmond and the Jolimont railway station, East Melbourne.  Internationally, the MCG is remembered as the centrepiece stadium of both the 1956 Summer Olympics and the 2006 Commonwealth Games. The open-air stadium is also one of the world's most famous cricket venues.  

December 26th  is celebrated down under as Boxing day – it is a public holiday there in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and some commonwealth Nations.  Some say its origin is from the Christmas carol and King Wenceslas.  Another plausible theory is that one day after Christmas, the boxes are broken open  !  In UK, there reportedly is the tradition of fox hunts in country sides which were imperiled since 2005 with Parliament banning traditional method of using dogs to kill prey.  Down under the tradition continues  (one remembers the Pongal test tradition at Chepauk that has died down !) – a Test match hosted at Melbourne, Victoria, beginning on Boxing day – the 26th  Dec ; every four years the Boxing Day Test forms part of the 5-match Ashes series with England.

India has won twice at Melbourne ~ thus a favourite ground for the team.  Of our two wins at Melbourne, the latest one came in Feb 1981 – a Test which was almost sparred by ‘smoke was coming out of my ears and I heard nothing’ comment of Sunil Gavaskar.   In Test No. 895, Indians led by Gavaskar, made 237 with a brilliant 114 by Gundappa Vishwanath.   Lillee scalped 4, Pascoe took 3.  Aussies made a massive 416.  India had the best partnership of 165 when Gavaskar was adjudged LBW to Lillee when he had nicked it on to his pads.  Chauhan went on to make 85 and Indians made 324 – a target of 143 looked simple and Kapil was not fit to bowl with a strained thigh muscle. 
But in the dramatic last session Aussie lost 3 wickets for 24.  Ghavri removed Jack Dyson; Wood was out to Doshi and Greg Chappen was out bowled by Ghavri for a first ball duck.   The next morning Kapil dev fired them out with figures of 5 for 28 bundling them out for 83 – one of the lowest movements for Australia.

                     Chetan Chauhan who batted so well – played in 40 Tests making 2000 odd runs but never made a century, though was closer many a times.   Chauhan was urged by Gavaskar to walk out and leave the field but the manager  Wing Commander S. K. Durrani, intervened,  and ensured that the controversial dismissal did not spoil the match.  The whole of the Series there was inconsistent umpiring always going against the Indians.   The inexperienced Rex Whitehead, who made his debut in the first Test and stood in all three matches even after Indians protested. 

The first win in Dec 1977 was different.  It was a great series in which all the 5 matches produced results.   Indians were led by Bishan Singh Bedi; Australians brought back Bobby Simpson as some key players had joined Kerry Packer and were unavailable for National side.  Aussies secured an early 2-0 lead and the 3rd Test (Test No. 812) was at Melbourne.  Jeff Thomson was at his furious best and Indians straightaway were off to the worst imaginable start losing both the openers without a single run on board.
                                  Mohinder, Vishwanath, Vengsarkar and Ashok Mankad took the score to 256.  Craig Serjeant made 85, while rest Dyson, Coiser, Ogilvie, Simson, Toohey, Rixon went out cheaply and were bowled out for 213.  Chandrasekhar took 6 for 52.     In the second India made an imposing 343 with Gavaskar making 118.  Set an improbable 387, Aussies mustered only 164 giving Indians their first win – a big one at that.  Chandra was the hero with another identical 6 for 52.   The accomplishment of the first win in 12 tests in Australian soil was outrightly due to Chandra’s magical figures of 12 for 104 in the match.

Those days, an half hour capsule called ‘highlights’ would be telecast few days after the match in the night time and we clamoured seeing the Indians performance on TV – when ‘the slow-motion’ of the action – delivery, catch, run out etc., caught the attention of everybody and were the  most talked about events.  Only few households had TV sets and people would crowd in those houses to watch those half an hour capsules………

Now to the present ~  the series is interestingly poised at 1-1 - If India can bounce back from their Perth defeat and register victory they will have retained the Border-Gavaskar trophy.  The pitches in this series have provoked much discussion and Melbourne's 22 yards has been at the forefront of everyone's attention for days. Last year the surface was marked "poor" by the ICC after the drab Ashes stalemate and this Test, under the management of a new curator, feels like a significant moment as an iconic ground tries to repair its reputation.

India's selections away from home this year, especially in England and Australia, have been the subject of significant criticism. Ravi Shastri said all that is being ignored - on this tour because they were in a different hemisphere - but while some calls may have been 50-50 others, such as those made in Perth, were more clear errors.  Mitchell Marsh has been recalled at the expense of Peter Handscomb, whose technique has been worked over by the India quick bowlers. There are startling revelations – India naming their X1 and dropping both the openers -  97 runs between them in eight innings – Murali Vijay and Rahul are out. Mayank Agarwal is set to get his debut with Hanuma Vihari moving up the order from his No. 6 station. Ravichandran  Ashwin has not recovered fully, which means Ravindra Jadeja has come in as part of the four-man attack. Rohit Sharma, though, is back to fitness, slotting in at No. 6. No place for the sensation Hardik Pandya.  The team reads : 1 Mayank Agarwal, 2 Hanuma Vihari, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt.), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 Rishabh Pant (wk), 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Jasprit Bumrah

Lot has been written about 7 year old Archie Schiller being drafted in Aussie side – it is more of a  heart-warming gesture.  Archie, who suffers from a heart ailment, dreams of captaining Australia and it has been confirmed he would co-captain Tim Paine in the third Test against India, starting December 26. Archie's inclusion in an extended Australian Test squad was made public earlier this month and he learned the news via a phone call from coach Justin Langer. The young leg-spinner also practised with the Australian team during a training session at the Adelaide Oval earlier this month. When Archie was just three months old, it came to light that he had faulty heart valves. Weeks after his birth he underwent an urgent surgery lasting more than seven hours in Melbourne. And six months later, he underwent a second surgery before he went under the knife again in last December.

Paine said the decision to make Archie the co-captain was their way of fulfilling his long-cherished dream. "Sometimes we live a life, it's very good, but you can be consumed in your own life at times, so to have someone like that around is actually really inspiring for our group. It's great to have him around and we look forward to his debut on Boxing Day," he added.

Interesting ~ and hope India bounces back .. .. wins another at Melbourne.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
25th Dec 2018.

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