Australia v India – Second Test Day 1: Australia’s defensive mindset does them in

When you reach a certain age (or level of unhealthy infatuation with the battle of attrition that is test cricket), Christmas becomes a precursor itself. It first hits home during Christmas day, with stacked plates full of meats and salads threatening the integrity of the folded table my family eat on. Instead of wondering what presents were to come my way, or how my extended family have coped with lockdown, I can’t stop wondering whether Steve Smith has used the break to devise a way of scoring against Bumrah and Ashwin. Will he have learnt from his overly defensive ways? Will our bowlers be just as scintillating? Despite being exhausted from a day of food and socialising, a nervous jitter flies through me as I rest before the big day.


Over the years Boxing Day has come to rival Grand Final day in terms of the morning. Straight away as I’m awake and realising of the occasion, the curtains are parted and the weather is reviewed. Bright blue skies? Perfect – we’ll bat first thanks. Tim Paine is on the same wavelength, and he puts a changed Indian line up to the test by sending them into the field.


If the opening session feels like Christmas, then it can only be a marathon of excitement and nerves for the combatants. Burns and Wade make the long walk to the MCG pitch, looking to build on their second innings performance attuned to downhill skiing. Was it a one-off, or an incline in a long-term trend of form? Burns’ portion is answered quickly; Bumrah is straight on the money, and hems him down until his nifty out-swingers can entice a quiet nick through to the recalled Rishabh Pant. As he trudges off for his second consecutive Boxing Day duck, he forgets to look at the surrounds and take them in in case it’s for the final time as a test match opener.


Wade takes something from Burns’ tentative prod, and sets about ensuring a piece of David Warner is represented on Boxing Day. Whenever Yadav overpitches, Wade pounces, slamming cover drives through with disdain. His tattooed arms fly through anything wide. Before long, his confidence extends to his straight off drive. By the time Ashwin is introduced (in the 10th over, a sign of new and bold captaincy from Ajinkya Rahane that makes Warne, Clarke and myself cluck with approval), Wade is confident enough to sweep the wily offie. Australian cricketers have funny ways of performing on their birthdays. The strong Tasmanian looked well on the way to joining the ranks of Peter Siddle and David Boon.


Until it all goes pear-shaped. In the same over as the bold sweep to the boundary, Wade bites off more than he should chew. Like an eager kid, he swings through a flighted Ashwin ball despite not being anywhere near the pitch of it, and skies it into the Melbourne sky. World cricket’s best fielder in Ravi Jadeja sits under it, judging it to perfection despite debutant Shubman Gill trying to make a contest. For the first time in nearly a year there is a marking contest at the ‘G. Jadeja’s athleticism and superior conditioning wins out, but not without Gill making a valiant attempt to spoil. Many AFL clubs would be licking their lips at his defensive intensity, but other cricket fans rue Wade’s lack of patience after such a thrilling start.


The Wade shot is made to look much worse when Smith jiggles to the crease and falls for without scoring to Ashwin. The makeshift opener may receive the criticism, but Smith’s lazy attention to Rahane’s attacking field is just as disappointing. Instead of taking to Ashwin and swinging through a leg-stump delivery, he tries to delicately flick it, only to find leg slip’s awaiting hands. It won’t be the last instance of such a dismissal, but it’s by the far the most deflating.


From there Head and Labuschagne cling on for dear life. Head refuses to move his feet to Ashwin, instead allowing him to dictate ball after ball, much like Graeme Swann used to revel in doing to gun-shy left-handers. Labuschagne sits on the back foot to Bumrah, and avoids LBW calls by millimetres.


Time helps everything. In this partnership, it encourages the pair to push along the score and become proactive. When they take calculated risks, they look further away from being dismissed. Head is the best at it – manipulating singles and trying to stamp his growing authority on the test match. It’s a shame such a bright innings is undone after the lunch break by a loose back foot drive. But Head’s worth is necessary – in a team lacking intent through the middle order, the South Australian’s impetus to become busy is desperately required.


Labuschagne’s marathon of an innings deserves praise. Coming in early, he showed the patience and technique asked of him. He worked his way into the 40s through sheer will, grinding until he flicked debutant Siraj to leg gully. He and Head deserve some recognition, but Labuschagne has already proven he can bat with more aggression than he has showed this series.


Once Labuschagne and Head go, Australia’s innings loses structure and pace. Paine tries to play another plucky innings, but is restricted early. The keeper is now treated with more respect by India’s disciplined bowlers, and it results in a cheap leg slip catch off Ashwin. Green is tied down horribly by Ashwin, and becomes a plug until Siraj catches his hefty hoof in front for a second scalp.


The bowlers try to offer late resistance (Lyon’s boundaries off Bumrah marking the best sense of attack taken to the Indian bowler all series) but they can’t bump the total above 200. India were brilliant, both in patient bowling and in their tight fielding. Siraj, Ashwin and Bumrah were all terrific, but Australia’s bats played into their hands by shutting up shop and refusing to take a risk. Smith was meant to be the missing cog for this series, but right now all this has proven is that Warner’s attacking panache is way more valuable than Smith’s solidity.


In response the Australian bowlers face all kinds of pressure. It’s Boxing Day, just hours after a moving tribute to the late Dean Jones. They must strike early, with many still expecting another Adelaide riot from them. Starc satisfies pundits with a first over wicket, catching Agarwal on the crease with pace and deadly swing. But Labuschagne spills a chance to snare Gill on debut and the script is torn up.


The first bat to take a positive approach all day is Gill, as his feet move sharply against Cummins and Starc’s express pace. Drives fly to the boundary. One of the first pull shots gets taken on, and it flies to the square leg fence. On debut, Gill shows his opponents how they should’ve tackled their own home pitch. In the final overs the score flies along so that they are 1-36 by the day’s end. Instead of being 2-5, Gill has changed the game. Although it wasn’t Australia’s day, it was a Boxing Day that lived up to the hype surrounding test cricket’s grandest of days. May the 27th continue with the intensity, and maybe a sprinkle of Australian aggression.



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  1. Ta Sean.

    Steve Smith could do with a few runs. Three visits to the crease this series, including a not out, for only 2 runs is not what we want. It’s been a while since he’s made a big score in Oz. In the five tests last summer he didn’t make a ton, but Australia having easy victories in all five didn’t suffer. Now that they’re facing a tougher opponent big scores from Smith would be invaluable.

    The batting looks as fragile as it did on India’s last tour down under. Sure it’s not exactly the same batsmen lining up, but so far this series they’ve been underwhelming. Smith out of form, Marnus no 50’s yet, the rest don’t inspire. Burns a lucky selection ,though a 50 in the first test helped, shouldn’t maintain his spot. Wade always gives 150% but how long can he play as a specialist batsmen? Travis Head has been around for two years: when do you regularly make good starts into big scores? Young Green is learning the ropes.

    Balancing out we probably have the best bowling quartet in world cricket. They’ve delivered so far this summer; let’s do it again today. Our bowling is very good, our batting……………..


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