The story of the 2nd Test at the MCG is simple. Both India and Australia have outstanding bowling attacks. And while at Adelaide, it was Australia’s batsmen who survived longer against the Indian attack, at Melbourne it was the other way round.
This was India’s 4th win at Melbourne. In 1977, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar bowled India to victory against Bobby Simpson’s Packer affected Australians taking 12/104 in the match. In that Test, the Australian new ball attack was Jeff Thomson and Wayne Clark, while India’s new ball attack was Karsan Ghavri and Sunil Gavaskar.
In 1981, the Australian new ball attack was Dennis Lillee and Len Pascoe, while India’s was Kapil Dev and Dilip Doshi in the first innings and Karsan Ghavri and Sandip Patil in the second. In that second innings, Kapil Dev, bowling with a crocked hamstring, took 5/28 at 2nd change to bowl Australia out for 83, as India defended 143 in 4th innings. Australia’s first innings lead was 182 in that match. Gavaskar and Chauhan put on 165 for the opening wicket in the 3rd innings after which Gavaskar was sawn-off. This was arguably India’s greatest ever Test win, considering the odds, the opposition, and the conditions.
In 2018, India batted first, declared twice, and won by 137 runs. Jasprit Bumrah took 6/33 to demolish Australia for 151 after India had ground out 443/7 with Cheteshwar Pujara (106), Virat Kohli (82), Mayank Agarwal (76) and Rohit Sharma (63) using 169 overs. Pujara and Kohli added 170 in 68 overs in that innings. India batted again and limped to 106/8 with Pat Cummins taking 6/27. With a first innings lead of 292, that still set Australia 399 to win. They managed 261. Bumrah took 9/86 in the match and was Player Of The Match.
In 2020, Australia batted first and were shot out for 195 in only 72 overs. In response, India reached 326. Australia were then shot out again for only 200, though this time they survived 103 overs. India knocked off the 70 runs necessary.
Of the 185 overs India bowled in the match, nearly all were high quality overs. That’s a rare achievement and its a lot for any batting line up to have to contend with. Since India bowled 1st, they didn’t have to worry about defending runs. They attacked the stumps relentlessly. In Jasprit Bumrah they have a terrific fast bowler who is quick, hostile and and constantly working on how he might use his formidable arsenal to work a batsman over. In the third innings he produced a truly wondrous hostile spell.
A lot of bowlers over the years, have tried to bowl at Steve Smith’s stumps to counter his extraordinary method of shuffling across his stumps. Smith’s method, in theory, is risky because he’s inviting the LBW dismissal and its harder to stay balanced when you’re moving that much. But Smith has mastered this. And few bowlers have had the ability to trouble him. He wears them down, even if he’s initially denied runs behind square on the leg side (and area of the field which, by law, can only be defended by 2 fielders or less) through well set fields. Few bowlers have been good enough to disturb this. Jofra Archer did it with his terrific pace in England. Archer’s high quality short-pitched barrage inspired Neil Wagner’s bouncer barrage from his left-arm round the wicket angle shut Smith down, even if it didn’t attack him. Smith faced 627 balls against NZ in that series for only 214 runs.
Bumrah went one better. His approach has been to attack Smith’s stumps and use the bouncer only sparingly to keep Smith honest. And in this Test it worked. Bumrah got him bowled leg stump. Teams have been trying to find ways to shut Smith’s run machine down for years. The plan they’ve hit upon is one which requires extraordinary skills which are beyond the standard capabilities of medium-fast bowlers. They require a combination of speed and control which few possess. Fortunately for India in this Test, Jasprit Bumrah has it in spades. He is turning into an truly outstanding fast bowler.
Ravichandran Ashwin has had the ball on a string in the series so far. He dismissed Labuschagne with a dream delivery. It beat Labuschagne in the flight and had him caught on the crease. Then it drifted towards first slip in its flight and turned him around, and then, as Labuschagne tried to tap it away using his hands from his stranded position, it took the leading edge, and went to first slip. That drift has added menace to Ashwin’s control in this series.
Mohammed Siraj bowled with remarkable purpose and focus in his first Test. Like Bumrah, he rarely wasted a delivery. There were few long hops. Ravindra Jadeja, as usual was at the batsman and at the stumps all the time. He’s a master at bowling to his field.
This was a feature of India’s tactical approach in this Test. They attacked the stumps as far as possible and set fields to defend such a line. They almost never had more than 2 fielders in front of square on the off side to the fast bowler. They were more likely to have three in the leg-side ring.
Once Australia had been bowled out of 195, they would need the rub of the green to stay in the match. Their formidable attack created a lot of chances as expected. But as long as only an average number of those produced wickets, they would find it hard to get a lead or even maintain parity, because with only 195 on the board, they would have to start defending runs very early. This meant fewer catchers. They didn’t get the rub of the green (if you are so minded, you might think that they used up a lot of it in that 2nd innings perfection at Adelaide). Shubman Gill hit 3 catches in 65 balls. He was also, exactly like Prithvi Shaw, caught on the crease by the magnificent Pat Cummins, who cut him in half more than once. Luckily for Gill, unlike Shaw, he wasn’t bowled. The first time the edge traveled just over middle-and-leg stump to Paine’s left side (Paine dropped it), and the second time it went past Paine’s left hand for a boundary.
Still, every bowler Gill and Shaw will face in their careers wont be Pat Cummins. Very few in Test history are that good.
326 gave India a lead of 131. Ashwin and Bumrah went to work again. The 70 required in the 4th innings on a wicket which seemed to lose some of its bite as the game progressed, were knocked off easily.
In episode 28929385 of “Batsmen get match prizes for doing routine things, while bowlers get them for doing extraordinary things”, Ajinkya Rahane was Player Of The Match. It should have been either Jasprit Bumrah or Ravichandran Ashwin, or both. They bowled 104 overs in the match between them, shared 11 wickets, and were the architects of the Indian win. It was the control they enforced and the menace they exuded which caused 20 Australian wickets to fall for 395 runs.