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India vs Australia: The Horror of 36 and Absence of Top Players - What Makes MCG Win Historic

After being routed for 36 in the second innings of the series opener in Adelaide, India, against all odds, rebuke and criticism, fought back to beat Australia

India vs Australia: The Horror of 36 and Absence of Top Players - What Makes MCG Win Historic

India has done what no one expected them to do. India has done what was almost considered impossible for an Indian team to do. India has done what no Indian team has done in the past and India has done what only three teams have previously done in the history of Test cricket. After being routed for 36 in the second innings of the series opener in Adelaide, India, against all odds, rebuke and criticism, fought back to beat Australia by 8 wickets in the big Boxing Day Test at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) to draw level the four-match series at 1-1.

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It was a historic win for many reasons.

The Horror of 36 All-Out, the Australian Attack and History Against Them

India were decimated in Adelaide in the Pink Ball Test. After taking a first innings lead, to be bundled out for 36 in tough but not unplayable conditions in the second innings, was humiliating and devastating for Indian cricket. The Indian batting had sunk to an all-time low - it was their lowest completed score in an innings in Test history. There were sharp attacks from all pundits, experts, ex-cricketers - anyone and everyone - some of whom had never lifted a bat in their life. Series verdicts were announced - 4-0 Australia! A series sweep! Everyone was gunning for the Indian team - the fickle media did not lose a chance to dismiss the team completely, the haters of the sport were happy - some of the elite who consider cricket too massy and some others who are just jealous of Indian cricket and what it represents in general.

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After being bowled out for 42 in the second innings at Lord's in the summer of 1974, the Ajit Wadekar-led Indian team had been thrashed by an innings and 78 runs in the next Test in Birmingham. So even history was against India in 2020! Only thrice in the history of Test cricket had any team, anywhere in the world, won the next Test of a series after being bowled out for 50 or less in any innings in the previous Test - England did it against Australia in Sydney in 1887 (in fact they won the first Test, also in Sydney after being out for 45 in the first innings), England again achieved the feat against the West Indies in Bridgetown in 1994 after being routed for 46 in the second innings in Port of Spain and Australia hammered South Africa in a thriller in Johannesburg by two wickets after being dismissed for 47 in the second innings in Cape Town.

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India were also up against, arguably the greatest Australian Test attack ever - the quartet of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon - almost as good if not better than the combined prowess of the formidable attack of the late 1990s and early 2000s - Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Shane Warne.

Australia Won a Crucial Toss in Melbourne

India had their back to the walls. No one was giving them a chance. The odds went from bad to worse after Australia won the toss and elected to bat first at the MCG. It was 3-1 to the team batting first in the last five Boxing Day Tests at the venue. The MCG had an average first innings' score (team first innings) of 391.6 in the last five years. Of the 10 innings, there had been 7 team scores of 300 and more. Australia had piled up scores of 467, 327, 551 for 3 declared, 530 and 333 in their last 5 innings batting first (in the first innings of the match) at the MCG.

The Absence of Virat Kohli and No Rohit Sharma

The absence of Virat Kohli for the last three Tests of the series due to personal reasons was a massive blow to India. Kohli is not only India's captain but also their best batsman across formats. He is widely regarded as one of the two best Test batsmen in the world and is already an all-time great. He is equal to half the Indian batting line-up in tough overseas conditions. Kohli has a great record in Australia - 1352 runs in 13 Tests at an average of 54.08 including 6 hundreds. For visiting batsmen from the subcontinent (min. 500 runs), only Kumar Sangakkara (60.33) has a higher average in Australia than Kohli. Just for perspective (before the start of the MCG Test), Pujara has a batting average of 51, Tendulkar - 53.2, Gavaskar - 51.11, Younis Khan - 50.63, Sehwag - 46.86, Laxman - 44.14 and Dravid - 41.64 in Australia. Kohli has bettered all their efforts.

India's batting line-up was already depleted with Rohit Sharma - who had a magnificent 2019 in his new role as opener - not available for the first two Tests of the series. Rohit had scored 556 runs in 5 Tests (6 innings) at an average of 92.66 at a strike rate of almost 76 including three hundreds in 2019. He is already considered to be amongst the greatest openers in ODI cricket history and top-scored in the 2019 World Cup in England.

The Injuries to Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma

Mohammed Shami's injury in the first Test which ruled him out for the rest of the series Down Under was a huge blow to India. Shami has been lethal for India in both Tests and ODI's in the last few years with his wicket-taking ability the standout feature of his bowling. Shami has stunning numbers in Test cricket. His strike rate of 49.9 is the best for an Indian pacer in the country's Test cricket history (min. 150 wickets)! He was the second-highest wicket-taker amongst pacers with 16 wickets in 8 innings the last time India toured Australia in 2018-19 and since 2018 has picked 85 wickets in 23 Tests at 24.02 apiece at an even better strike rate of 45.4.

Shami's loss was a huge blow to India, already without the services of another strike bowler, Ishant Sharma. Ishant had made giant strides in his Test career in the last three years and had dramatically transformed into a wicket-taking match-winner for India in Test cricket. He had picked 71 wickets in 18 Tests since 2018 and his average of 19.14 and strike rate of 41.7 were both the second-best (min. 40 wickets) amongst pacers after Jason Holder and Umesh Yadav in this time-frame.

The Injury to Umesh Yadav During the Match

To compound India's fast bowling woes, another strike bowler and a part of the current quartet, Umesh Yadav sustained a calf injury during Australia's second innings in Melbourne. Yadav had produced a peach of a delivery to give India the initial breakthrough getting rid of Joe Burns in the 4th over of the innings. But soon after he had to leave the field - in his 4th over and only the 8th of the innings and did not take any further part in the match. This meant that India, already without the services of Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami, had the task of taking the remaining 9 Australian wickets with a bowler short putting enormous pressure on Jasprit Bumrah, R Ashwin and the debutant, Mohammed Siraj.

Yadav had also been in brilliant wicket-taking form since 2018 and had picked 49 wickets in just 12 Tests in the last three years. His strike rate of 35.1 was the best in the world amongst fast bowlers in this time-frame.​

To come back from one of the lowest points of the country's Test history after losing an important toss without the services of four of your main players and then being further depleted with an injury to another strike bowler during the match, takes a lot of strength, courage and character.

India, led and inspired by the stand-in-captain, Ajinkya Rahane have showed a lot and more of that as they fought back to level the series 1-1 in a historic victory at the MCG, which with 4 wins has now become India's favourite hunting ground outside of India.

Team Rankings

1 New Zealand 3198 118
2 Australia 3028 116
3 India 3085 114
4 England 4326 106
5 South Africa 2499 96
FULL Ranking
1 England 5405 123
2 India 6102 117
3 New Zealand 3716 116
4 Australia 4344 111
5 South Africa 3345 108
FULL Ranking
1 England 6877 275
2 Australia 6800 272
3 India 10186 268
4 Pakistan 7516 259
5 South Africa 5047 252
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