MCG Test: Pat Cummins’ heroics no match for India’s bowling efficiency
After starring with the ball, Pat Cummins blunted India with the bat. © AFP

Pat Cummins bowled superbly on day one as Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli ground down Australia.

He then bowled equally well on a hot day two as well, before padding up as Usman Khawaja’s night watchman for six overs.

Then, on day three, he watched as Jasprit Bumrah rolled over the Australian batting line-up for 151 runs. He batted during that innings and later got something out of this joyless Test – four wickets in two overs.

On day four, he was out on the field again, continuing with the same passion and energy, picking his career-best figures of 6/33. It is not to say other Australian cricketers haven’t played with same intensity in this match – perhaps not their batsmen, but indeed the bowlers have. Even so, Cummins has walked a couple inches above the ground as compared to the rest. (ALSO READ: Defiant Pat Cummins takes Boxing Day Test to the final day)

He has done no wrong in a Test where his team-mates have done little right. Sample this. Mitchell Starc bowled only three overs in India’s short second innings, while Cummins bowled eleven. He has shown a fight that every individual cricketer worth his salt does at some point in a long career – a Test to remember. Only, this has been anything but.

Saturday began with a simple question then. How many more runs did India want before asking Australia to bat a second time? Usually the answer is 400 – you get that mental pressure of a tall target in your head, the Indian bowlers don’t have to worry about runs and the captain can set attacking fields at all points. This is Virat Kohli  captaincy 101. (ALSO READ: Pat Cummins wages lone battle as Australian grit returns, albeit too late)

Only thing, India couldn’t reach 400 – technically – this time for they had lost too many early wickets. It didn’t matter – they had enough runs on the board already even as Mayank Agarwal, Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja went about scoring a few more quick ones. Apart from Cummins’ six-wicket grab though, the only other highlight of this passage of play was when Australia assumed that Pant was trying to farm strike with Jadeja.

Pat Cummins took a career-best 6/27 at the MCG
Pat Cummins took a career-best 6/27 at the MCG. © AFP

He wasn’t, and it is very possible that Pant doesn’t even know how to farm strike. Batting with lower order batsmen in Perth and now in Melbourne, he has taken singles off first two balls of the over on many occasions. The underlying point herein though is about Australia’s lack of intent to attack. Even at that juncture, they were thinking of keeping India at the crease, of stretching the game and not bowling them out.

Sure, they wanted to eat up time but this is where Australia have been severely lacking in leadership. They have been reactive in this series – barring the one session in Perth where they scored 112-0. Even then, they were defensive given how they spent the whole Test in a bid to stay ahead. India, in comparison, have never let up on their intensity. Perhaps that’s the biggest difference between the leadership styles of Kohli and Tim Paine.

It has reflected in how India have manufactured wickets on a tough pitch. Sure, they were helped by scoreboard pressure in both innings, but Australia always seemed content on stopping runs rather than attack. India meanwhile were on the front foot and indeed managed to find a sweet spot between aggressive and over-aggression.

In this, they were helped by Australia’s batting failures. Look at Aaron Finch’s shot – he was giving slip practice and Kohli’s reaction on taking that catch said as much. Consider Mitchell Marsh’s shot – not content with his first-innings dismissal, he went for an attacking stroke against Jadeja for a second successive innings and was caught out. He didn’t look like he wanted to spend time at the crease, and this is the vice-captain we are talking about.

Ravindra Jadeja picked up big wickets on day four.
Ravindra Jadeja picked up big wickets on day four. (AFP Image)

Finch’s poor stroke allowed Kohli to bring on Jadeja as first-change, bowling into the rough against Marcus Harris and Khawaja. This was an important in-road given that the Kookaburra goes soft and then the pacers have to wait for reverse. In that aspect too, Indian bowlers have outsmarted their counterparts here. They have bowled fuller and given their high pace, all of Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami have found reverse swing.

It was in stark contrast to how they bowled in Perth, getting carried away by the bounce on offer and unable to hit the right lengths. Here, on a more familiar pitch and in conditions they have previously experienced, their lengths have been on the money once again. And this Indian pace attack is one to cherish for every cricket fan in the country – they have taken a long time to mature and come together as a unit. The wait wasn’t theirs alone, having watched Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan toil away in singularity all those years.

No, this patient wait is shared by all of us. Never mind that winnable Test series were lost in 2018, the collective success of this fearsome fast bowling unit in the past 12 months needs to be celebrated. On day five then, the last day of Test cricket this year, they will return to complete what they started – a second win on Australian soil in the same series for the first time since 1977. It will be a moment as rare as it gets.

Of course, Cummins will take the field too. But his fight will be a lonely one as it has been for the four days gone past.