MCG Test, Australia v India – Day One: A balance of inconsistencies

3rd Test – Australia v India: Boxing Day

A fine, cool morning announced another Boxing Day. Any broadcaster within braying distance of a microphone was doing some announcing of their own, compelled to declare the specialness of the occasion every few minutes lest it should have escaped our notice. At least 70,000 cricket lovers had managed to notice, overcoming post-Christmas torpor to find their way to the ground. More than any hype, they are what makes the occasion special.

Steven Peter Devereux Smith won his first toss and didn’t hesitate to bat. For three overs India looked likely to make him regret the decision. Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav had found the range early and kept Australia scoreless. David Warner, stranded on the crease, had nicked to slip. A nervous Shane Watson arrived at the crease.

Almost on cue, MS Dhoni fluffed a basic take, gifting the hosts their first run. Then two amateurish misfields got Chris Rogers under way. India’s problems this summer had been neatly encapsulated in six deliveries. Consistency, not talent, is their major deficiency.

Prior to the game Watto had been assessed as passing a concussion test. You wouldn’t have known it from the way he began. His progression to double figures was a small, scratchy miracle. But India again came to Australian rescue. After a promising start, their quicks were now bowling as if they had a major stake in the fortunes of Watto Incorporated.

Rogers had meanwhile been capitalising on improved Brisbane form. His is a method hewn through years of professional toil. He’ll never be a stylist, but he currently serves a valuable role as anchor counterpart to Warner’s adventurous speculations. With Indian bowlers reluctant to pursue any particular idea for longer than an over, and their skipper often appearing to be on an entirely different tactical page altogether, Australia were almost rollicking as lunch approached.

To add to visitor woes, Watto was gifted a life when second slip crossed in front of first to spill a very catchable edge. Whist India can play with tremendous flair, an enduring feature of their play is a reluctance to attend to small details, like the proper staggering and spacing of the slip cordon. This particular problem has been noticeably worse since Dhoni’s return to the keeping position post Adelaide. Test cricket can often be decided as much by the accumulation of small details as any great acts of brilliance.

With both batsmen past fifty and settled after lunch, India looked set for a long day. But this is not an imperious Australian batting line-up. Warner and Smith aside, the rest have modest career records that are fair reflections of their abilities. With their partnership reaching 115, both Rogers and Watson contrived to depart in quick order as India tightened their approach. They then successfully applies the clamps to Steve Smith’s early scoring. Understanding his side’s vulnerability, the Australian skipper was sensibly unhurried.

Sean Marsh’s recent return to test cricket would seem to be a late period artefact from the selection philosophy of The Chosen Ones. Despite a career that testifies to inconsistency at all levels, someone of influence obviously retains the faith. It was a faith not conspicuously rewarded in Brisbane, but here he at least hung around to assist Smith in some innings resurrection.

Australia reached tea in the relatively safe harbours of 3-174. Nevertheless, India had recovered sufficiently to return the feel of a genuine contest to proceedings.

It came as no real surprise when an attempted square slash off the front foot saw Marsh edge to Dhoni. This brought debutant Joe Burns to the crease accompanied by an enthusiastic reception. Burns looked balanced and compact, but departed with his first mistake when he under-edged a late decision to pull Yadav. At 5-216, much again rested with Smith.

Brad Haddin wore his first delivery from Yadav on his upper left arm. Thereafter he ran between wickets carrying the bat exclusively in his right hand. Physically discomforted, his mental state looked barely any better at first. He seemed unresolved from over to over as to how to respond to the short-pitched barrage the Indians now slightly overdid. But he survived. He reached double figures with a majestically hit straight six. it was a rare expansive moment.

Smith continued to project the serene calm of a man in a purple patch. His remarkable development over the last two years has become essential to Australian fortunes in the wake of Michael Clarke’s injury woes. To his credit, Smith is a classic example of a man able to take the lessons of earlier career disappointments and use them to become a better player. He steered the partnership with Haddin as Australia finished evenly poised on 5-257 by stumps.

India have a second new ball only eight overs old. They will need to use that shiny ball more incisively than the previous two tests. Yadav was their most promising option today, maintaining lively pace and  reasonable control.

Ishant Sharma had yet another day where you felt he might have taken more wickets. He has many such days. When a bowler consistently fits that description it usually means he operates too much back of a length. Such an approach may contain, but will see a ball that moves do too much to find an edge. Nor is it a length that hits the stumps on anything other than a low, slow wicket. With a bowling average near 37 over 60 tests, he embodies India’s crying  need for a genuine strike bowler.

Mohammed Shami bowls at a decent enough bustling fast medium. Unfortunately he appears to suffer the delusion he is genuinely quick. This led him to transgressions of line and length that made him the chief culprit in releasing whatever pressure India may have built. However, he did entice loose shots outside off from Rogers and Marsh to leave his figures respectable. Still, Varun Aaron, who is genuinely quick, might have been worth the risk on this pitch.

Ravi Ashwin was a key factor in India’s recovery today, tying down an end when the quicks lost control. But he was steady rather than consistently threatening. You get the feeling one of India’s speedsters will need to take a big step up.

If Australia pass 350 they will fancy Johnson, Harris and Hazelwood to cause some grief on this pitch. India’s batsmen have shown some genuine individual class in the previous two tests, but they have no recent record of collective resilience when behind in a series away from home. Once Australia are dismissed, it will be the Indian challenge to break that pattern.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Hats off, J Butler.
    For both insight and stylish delivery.

    As with the cricket presently, the devil is in the detail.

  2. Spot on JB. While it may be unkind to say the Indian Test Team don’t know how to play cricket, it’s not necessarily untrue. Some basic ground fielding efforts were lamentable. And that dropped catch was a first slip chance all the way.

    It was a day, I felt, of lost opportunity for Australia. They should have put the Tourists to the sword. The Indian attack didn’t look all that threatening after an opening burst. So what does that say about the Australian batsmen?

    And what’s the umpire doing warning Sharma that he might be getting close to the line? Or heaven forbid, going over it? Which he did often enough. Call him or shut up.

    Big day today JB.

  3. John Butler says

    Seasons greeting El Wrappo.Sharma probably needs every inch he can creep to try and get the ball up on a length. Not that it is doing him any noticeable good.

    Thanks E Reg. I like the days when the small things matter. Cricket is a game of subtleties – a thought that seems to have eluded Brayshaw and co.

    One significant omission in hindsight: India should be congratulated for bowling the 90 overs by the allotted closing time. Such a rare event nowadays that it shouldn’t go unnoticed.

  4. Season’s Greetings to you too JB. How’re things up at the Rat? As they say up at The Go.

    Easier to get the 90 overs in when the batmen aren’t holding up the bowlers by hitting the ball all over the ground and the umpires let five overs of no balls go uncalled.

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Succinct and brilliantly accurate , thanks John . Indias ground fielding and just competely inept ( well done pointing out , Dhoni re our 1st run ) S Marsh has ability but has never worked out his game and game plan ( Watto loves him )
    Varun non selection a mystery , Shammi yep thinks he is quick doesn’t bowl smart overall . Evenly poised at start of day 2

  6. India have gone from slightly overdoing the short stuff to massively overdoing it. If I was Haddin I’d be telling the umpire to but out – let Shami bowl 6 long-hops an over if he wants!

  7. Grand stuff JB. A certain reflective grandeur missing from most cricket commentators. I can’t stomach #9. Jim and Drew on the radio are like a superannuated Batman and the Boy Wonder gone to seed. Music and watch the odd over for me.
    They must be giving half centuries away with show bags these days. Every time I looked Rogers, Watto and Haddin looked to be batting by braille.
    I think Watto was clearly concussed from practice. Its just that they can’t get a base line reading for his concussion test.
    As Grouch Marx said: “Either my watch has stopped or this man is dead” (from the neck up).

  8. Luke Reynolds says

    Fantastic wrap John. Spot on about India not doing the little things well. Great to see 90 overs done by 5.30pm. Sent Channel 9 into a panic trying to fill in 30 minutes before the news.

  9. John Butler says

    Thanks Luke. Hope you had a great day at the ground yesterday.

    What a debacle the Indians turned on in the morning! Absolute rubbish.

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