Once-in-a-Gen: Why MCG Win Ranks Among India’s Best Away Triumphs

A generation and more of Indian cricket had failed to win a Test at MCG. But Kohli and team ended a 37-year wait.

5 min read
India beat Australia by 137 runs to claim their first Test win at Melbourne since 1981 and retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

Mohammad Azharuddin. Sachin Tendulkar. Anil Kumble. Rahul Dravid. Sourav Ganguly. MS Dhoni.

India had gone through a generation of stalwarts (and captains), with a cumulative Test career spanning from 1985 to 2014, since they last won a Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

When a touring party last tasted victory at the iconic ‘G’, India, in fact, hadn’t even announced their arrival as a world force; the seismic 1983 World Cup final was still 18 months away.

At the venue where India’s ‘golden generation’ had tried and failed – often times embarrassingly – their present, world number one-ranked unit struck gold.

IND (1st Inns): 169.4 Overs, AUS: 156.2

Forget the history, or the histrionics, for a moment, and take a look at the Boxing Day Test in isolation.

India batted 169.4 overs, losing seven wickets over the first two days of the game. Over the next two-and-a-bit days, they took the 20 Australian wickets in the space of 156.2 overs. They did this in an away Test – in conditions supposedly alien.

The pitch may have progressively worsened, but it’s not like it was without its demons on the opening two days. The opposition may not have been the strongest, but it’s not like India haven’t encountered out-of-form/out-of-sorts teams in their den before – the current lot were guilty of being run over by off-colour South African and English teams in 2018 itself.

But there was a gulf large enough to bury Australia’s woeful 2018 between the teams.

Once-in-a-Gen: Why MCG Win Ranks Among India’s Best Away Triumphs
(Graphic: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

Sample the graphic above. Just taking into account the first innings – thereby factoring out the possible wear-and-tear of the track, and comparing the two teams by the most uniform yardstick – India were well clear of the Aussies.

Ricky Ponting may have felt at the end of Day 2 that Cheteshwar Pujara’s 319-ball marathon could ‘cost’ India the game, but as his successors hurtled downwards over the next few days, the purpose of the ‘slow-crawl’ couldn’t have been lost on the former Australian captain.

Once-in-a-Gen: Why MCG Win Ranks Among India’s Best Away Triumphs
(Graphic: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

Bumrah, and a Booming Battery

Oh, the joy of watching an Indian pace attack devour teams on fast tracks in their own den!

It’s a sight so unimaginable for Indian cricket-viewing audiences from any generation that the accomplishments of Messrs Bumrah, Shami, Sharma and co are beyond dreams.

All but 21 of those 179 wickets came in away Tests. From Johannesburg and Nottingham, through to Adelaide and now Melbourne, India’s fast bowlers reached highs never seen before in Indian cricket – and heights not touched by any battery barring the great West Indian attack of the ’80s.

Why then does this win at MCG rate better than any of the earlier victories this year?

Because at Jo’burg, they had the advantage of bowling on a track where only 805 runs were scored in four innings. At Nottingham, one disruptive spell from Hardik Pandya (aided by needlessly reckless batting from an otherwise brilliant English lower-order) proved telling in the final calculation. At Adelaide earlier during this Australian summer, India only marginally edged a Test of fine margins, and that was down in large parts to a Pujara masterclass.

Day 3 at the MCG, however, presented nothing more, or less, than the ordinary – from the pitch, to the opposing batsmen. The element extraordinaire, on the day, was Jasprit Bumrah.

In him, India have unearthed a rare gem.

Bumrah is the first Indian bowler ever to have taken a five-for in South Africa, England and Australia – and he only made his Test debut in January 2018.
Once-in-a-Gen: Why MCG Win Ranks Among India’s Best Away Triumphs
(Graphic: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

Bold. And Beautiful?

Once-in-a-Gen: Why MCG Win Ranks Among India’s Best Away Triumphs
(Graphic: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

The Boxing Day Test at the MCG was India’s 532nd. They blooded two first-time openers for the first time since their fifth, all the way back in 1936.

One of the two first-timers was a debutant in Mayank Agarwal. The other, Hanuma Vihari, was only playing his third Test.

Given the volume of questions we tend to ask when things go wrong, it can’t possibly be any task to take a gamble with such a stake. Heck, there is never a low stake when it comes to Indian cricket.

Which is where, after a year where they found themselves in the firing line – justifiably, more than once – the Indian think-tank deserves some credit.

Once-in-a-Gen: Why MCG Win Ranks Among India’s Best Away Triumphs
(Graphic: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

At 113 balls, Agarwal and Vihari’s stint in the middle on the opening morning was India’s longest first-wicket association in the ‘tough’ parts of the world in eight years.

By staying put together for a combined total of 191 balls over the match, Agarwal and Vihari formed the longest association for an Indian opening pair in Tests in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa since July 2007.

To SCG, and a Date With History

The good work from Christmas weekend in Melbourne lends India’s cricketers to the simplest – and greatest – New Year’s resolution possible for Sydney.

By the end of the first week of 2019, Virat Kohli and team could have scaled a barrier unconquered in Indian cricket history.

In 71 years of visiting the shores Down Under – the length of India’s existence as an independent nation – India have never won a Test series in the country.

As they move from the MCG to the SCG, the New Year couldn’t come any sooner for Team India.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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