MCG Madness: India 54/5, But on Top After 15 Wickets Fall on Day 3
175.4 overs on the first two days at Melbourne yielded seven wickets.
That average – 25 overs per wicket – came crashing down to earth on Day 3, as India took command of the third Test against Australia after 15 wickets fell in 87.5 overs at MCG.
One would have to scratch through the record books incessantly – and in vain, surely – for the last time an Indian team stood in pole position with their second innings scorecard reading 54/5, but such was the extent of the carnage carried out by Jasprit Bumrah earlier in the day.
The 25-year-old claimed career-best figures of 6/33 as India bundled the hosts over for 151 to take a 292-run first innings lead, their highest ever in Tests in Australia.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli fell without scoring after India opted not to enforce the follow-on, but debutant Mayank Agarwal remained unbeaten on 28 to ensure the visitors carry a 346-run lead into Day 4.
Boom Boom Bumrah
Despite India declaring on 443/7 on Day 2 – their first score in excess of 400 in 11 Tests away from home in 2018 – there were murmurs of disagreement over the way the visitors approached the back half of the second day, with former Australia captain Ricky Ponting suggesting India’s slow-and-steady approach “could cost them the game”.
In an annihilating burst of skilled fast bowling, Bumrah vindicated his team’s ways – and the faith that had been shown in handing him a maiden cap in India’s first Test of the year, at Cape Town in January, even as skeptics questioned his red-ball credentials.
One would have to go back by nearly 15 years for better innings figures from an Indian bowler in Tests on Australian soil, and back by a further 18 for the only better showing by an Indian pacer Down Under.
India didn’t have to wait long for a breakthrough on the third morning. Ishant Sharma got Aaron Finch in the fifth over of the day, caught adeptly by Agarwal at short mid-wicket.
Bumrah entered the fray when Marcus Harris hooked one straight to Ishant at long leg, before Ravindra Jadeja accounted for Usman Khawaja.
At the stroke of Lunch, Bumrah would deliver a ball-of-the-year candidate. A slower yorker, straight at the toes (which Bumrah later credited as Rohit Sharma’s idea), and Shaun Marsh had no idea. Australia ended the opening session on 89/4.
A reverse-swinging corker followed to dismiss Travis Head shortly after the interval, and although captain Tim Paine attempted a rearguard through a patient, 17.3-over long vigil with number eight Pat Cummins, Bumrah would return refreshed post Tea to clean the Aussie tail.
The last three wickets – so often India’s bane over the last year on the road – were consumed in a nine-ball burst from the on-song pacer.
Having been on the field for 169.4 overs on the first two days, Australia’s own stay lasted 66.5 overs – only 82 balls more than what Cheteshwar Pujara alone batted – as India took their biggest first innings lead in Tests in the country.
Cummins’ Coming: All Too Late?
The call for a light roller was made almost as Bumrah picked up his final wicket; the weather forecast for the last two days might be gloomy, but Kohli has been vocal about wanting to ensure fresh legs among his bowlers in the past.
The new-look, makeshift opening combine of Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari once agains successfully saw off the opening 10 overs, in the process accumulating the best balls-faced tally for any Indian opening pair in a Test in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa since 2007 (Agarwal and Vihari batted 18.5 overs in the first innings, before seeing off 13 in the second, for a match total of 191 deliveries).
But just as he did in the first essay, Cummins would come on and end the association. The difference, this time around, was that he didn’t stop at one.
Pujara 0. Kohli 0. Rahane 1. Four wickets in the space of eight Cummins deliveries, leading to the lowest combined aggregate from India’s numbers 3, 4 and 5 in a Test innings since 1953.
India had fallen from 28/0 to 32/4, and subsequently slid to 44/5 with Rohit Sharma falling to Josh Hazlewood. But Agarwal, who won many admirers with a composed 76 in his maiden international innings, stayed put resolutely again.
The debutant was on 28 not out, off 79 balls, with Rishabh Pant (6*) providing company at Stumps.
Brief Scores India (443/7d & 54/5, Agarwal 28*, Cummins 4/10) lead Australia (151, Bumrah 6/33, Jadeja 2/45) by 346 runs.