Hits and Misses: Australia v India – Third Test

India retained the Border Gavaskar Trophy with a dominant victory at the MCG. What did we like and dislike from the biggest Test Match on the Australian Calendar.

Despite an heroic effort from Pat Cummins with both bat and ball, Australia was no match for India in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG. Already behind the eight ball after toiling away fruitlessly for two days in the field, a first innings collapse saw the match all but lost late on the third day.

After India opted against enforcing the follow on, career best bowling and batting efforts, Cummins saw the game forced into a final day with the home teams hopes small but greater than they were two nights previous. Rain threatened to have a say on proceedings when play was delayed on the fifth morning but India was quickly able to wrap up the match upon the resumption and retain the Border Gavaskar Trophy. As a result, they now head to Sydney in the box seat to win their first ever series on Australian soil.

So what were the Hits and Misses from the biggest Test Match on the Australian calendar?

1. Pujara plunders the Aussie attack once more. 

Cheteshwar Pujara’s powers of patience and concentration were on full show in both Adelaide and Perth. It meant that it was no surprise that he would find a way to prosper on a first-day pitch that offered little to the bowlers but was equally difficult to score on for batters. That said what his second century of the series might have lacked in surprise it more than made up for in quality and control. So dependable has the 30-year-old become that it prompted former Indian great Rahul Dravid to remark on his ability to perform when India needed him most. “As a cricketer, all you want to do is to produce match-defining innings and that’s what Pujara has done,” Dravid told the Times of India. “Not only in this series, if you look through his career as well, a lot of his innings have come at a time when India needed it most.

2. Pat Cummins delivers all-round effort.

While it did not deliver the result for his team that his effort deserved, Pat Cummins produced a remarkable all-round effort to remember in Melbourne over the last five days. On the field for almost 85% of the match, Cummins was all but a lone hand with bat and ball in the face of India’s dominant performance. Day Four provided a rare occurrence in which Cummins completed his best ever Test Bowling figures and followed up with his highest Test score in a day to remember individual but one to forget from a team standpoint. That it is what lone hand effort in a losing cause, perhaps the reason behind him being overlooked for Player of the Match honours.

3. Jasprit Bumrah.

While The Pinch Hitters choice for Player of the Match would have been Pat Cummins, it is hard to fault the performance of the official choice – Jasprit Bumrah. Less than 12 months into his Test career, he tore through the Australians in the first innings to all but ensure the Indians retain the Border Gavaskar Trophy. His 9-86 for the match taking his career tally to 48 from just nine matches and prompting Captain Virat Kohli to admit that he was glad he didn’t have to face the 25-year-old.

4. A little banter between the keepers.

Following on from Tim Paine’s humourous exchange with Virat Kohli during the Second Test, he engaged with Rishabh Pant for another ‘friendly’ chat. In another example of how banter can be exchanged without any lines being crossed, both Pant and Paine landed a few friendly jabs on the other. It started when Pant came to the crease in the first innings with Paine keen to talk about his opposite numbers omission from the Indian limited over side.

“Tell you what, big MS is back in the one-day squad, we might get him (Pant) down to the Hurricanes, this bloke,” Paine said to Aaron Finch at short leg.

“We need a batter.”

“Not if he keeps blocking them,” Finch replied.

“Fancy that, Panty? Surely, extend your little Aussie holiday,” Paine asked the Indian keeper. “Beautiful town Hobart, too. We’ll get you a nice apartment on the waterfront. We’ll have him over for dinner. Can you babysit? I’ll take the wife to the movies one night, you’ll look after the kids?”

Having listened to Paine’s chat when he batted, it was clear that he was waiting for his chance to return serve when the Aussie Skipper came to the crease. “We’ve got a special case today, come on boys. Special appearance today boy. Come on. No responsibility there from captain,” he said before ripping into Paine’s position as captain. “Have you heard of a temporary captain ever? Have you heard of it? Have you heard of anything like a temporary captain ever? You don’t need anything to get him out, boy. He loves to talk. That’s the only thing he can do boy. Only talking, talking.”

1. Australia drop chances.

The truest adage in cricket is that catches win matches, and on pitches offering little assistance to the bowlers, it is even truer as Australia learned on Days One and Two in Melbourne. What might have been for Australia had Tim Paine held on to the chance offered by Virat Kohli late on Day One? Nathan Lyon might also be having nightmares over the chances put down off his bowling on Day Two. Given the brittle nature of India’s tail, had these chances been claimed could the match have taken a completely different course?

2. After two days in the field, Aussie bats collapse.

After two long frustrating days in the field, the last thing Australia could afford as they set about their response to India’s 7-443 was a batting collapse. Unfortunately, despite the pitch seemingly offering nothing for the bowlers on the first two days, that is exactly what happened when Australia took the batting crease. Most disappointing of all for the Australian bowlers who needed to get their bowling boots on once more less than 24 hours after taking them off, was the fact that four of the Australian top six managed to get starts but were unable to go on and register a big score.

3. Booing Mitch Marsh.

The Pinch Hitters were as surprised as anyone when it was announced that Mitch Marsh would be brought into the Boxing Day Test team in the place of Peter Handscomb. While the Victorian Captain’s form may not have warranted selection for the Third Test, neither would it have seemed did that of the younger Marsh. That said, we were mortified to hear the MCG crowd boo Marsh whenever he was announced on Boxing Day. Regardless of whether he deserved his place in the team or not, a player representing Australia deserves better than that from a home crowd.

4. DRS Drama.

This is a long held bug bear of ours here, which meant we were again frustrated when the ‘Umpires Call’ saw Shaun Marsh dismissed LBW on Day Four. On first viewing the appeal for Marsh’s wicket seemed to be optimistic to us at Pinch Hitters House but less so to Marais Erasmus who wasted little time in giving the Western Australian out.

More surprising than Erasmus raising his finger was the fact that ball tracking showed the ball would graze leg stump depending on how many layers of varnish were on it or the stumps. Where this would have been deemed not out by the DRS in the past, the new weighting of Umpires Call meant Marsh was required to leave the field with Australia’s hopes growing ever dimmer.

We understand the arguments of some others who believe that if we trust ball tracking at all, that we should trust it when it says the ball is grazing the stumps. Our problem with this thinking is the fact that had Erasmus decided that Marsh was not out, the exact same ball tracking data would see the batter remain at the crease. This is illogical, the same data should result in the same outcome, a decision review system should not be so heavily weighted by the decision it is reviewing.

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