It did not take long for the changes India made to the playing XI, from the defeat at Adelaide Oval, to make an impact at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. When Australian opener Matthew Wade mistimed a shot and the ball went high up with two fielders chasing it on a collision course, there was tension evident on the face of bowler Ashwin Ravichandran. Rightly so because India were, to put it mildly, average with their catching in Adelaide.
In a parallel universe, imagine if that catch had gone down. A few days after the 36 all out, not long after losing the toss in Melbourne, imagine if that moment helped Australia get off to a quick start.
It was crucial, then, that the man who took command of that situation was Ravindra Jadeja, the team’s best fielder. The catch was taken, and India’s morning got brighter as the first steps were taken towards what would become one of the most significant Test wins in the team’s history.
Changes to the four
It was inevitable that changes would be made for the Melbourne Test because India needed a fresh impetus for this match. Two of those were, of course, forced as Rahane had to deal with not having the country’s best batsman and one of the best bowlers on his side. As India named their XI on Christmas day, there were murmurs that the team had pressed the panic button, and that they were admitting that the selection for Adelaide was wrong. Some even wondered why there was not a fifth change to include KL Rahul to strengthen the batting.
But, session by session, it became evident that the changes were paying off.
After that catch by Jadeja in the early part of the Test, Mohammed Siraj came on to bowl his first overs in Test cricket after one whole session had passed. But, after overcoming early nerves, he came up with a crucial spell with the older red Kookaburra ball and made Ricky Ponting say that he looked more threatening than the experienced Umesh Yadav.
In the second innings too, it was Siraj who broke two crucial partnerships that were starting to frustrate India with the wickets of Travis Head and Cameron Green. He ran in hard all match long, he displayed great control of his length and he finished the match with five wickets. Only five Indian bowlers in the history of Test cricket have enjoyed a better debut away from home.
Most wickets on debut away from home (India)
|Abid Ali||33.0*||4||116||7||2.63||16.57||37.7||AUS||Adelaide||23 Dec 1967|
|R Shastri||31.0||9||63||6||2.03||10.50||31.0||NZ||Wellington||21 Feb 1981|
|P Kumar||34.0||8||80||6||2.35||13.33||34.0||WI||Kingston||20 Jun 2011|
|V Prasad||42.0||9||121||6||2.88||20.16||42.0||ENG||Birmingham||6 Jun 1996|
|M Nissar||44.0||8||135||6||3.06||22.50||44.0||ENG||Lord's||25 Jun 1932|
|Md Siraj||36.3||8||77||5||2.10||15.40||43.8||AUS||Melbourne||26 Dec 2020|
|RP Singh||47.0||6||164||5||3.48||32.80||56.4||PAK||Faisalabad||21 Jan 2006|
And then there was Shubman Gill. There is a school of thought that the end of 2020 is already too late for a player of his calibre to make his Test debut. He could have played in New Zealand earlier this year, but the management waited to draft him in despite his stellar domestic record.
Despite evident good form in the build-up to this series, Prithvi Shaw was preferred in Adelaide as the incumbent opener. But, when the chance did come his way, Gill responded with two impressive knocks, even riding the beginner’s luck a tad bit.
If there was any doubt left, Gill showed why he is considered by many to be the next big thing in Indian cricket. For Indian openers making their debut outside the subcontinent, Gill’s numbers were the fourth best of all time.
Most runs on debut as opener away from India
|Player||1st inns||2nd inns||Total runs||Opposition||Ground||Start Date|
|S Gavaskar||65||67*||132||WI||Port of Spain||6 Mar 1971|
|M Agarwal||76||42||118||AUS||Melbourne||26 Dec 2018|
|SS Naik||4||77||81||ENG||Birmingham||4 Jul 1974|
|S Gill||45||35*||80||AUS||Melbourne||26 Dec 2020|
Coming back to Jadeja. His presence of the field was felt early, but it was with his bat that he shone brightest. The most improved aspect about Jadeja’s batting in Tests has been the time he has been spending in the middle, trusting his technique to bat for long periods and not just slogging his way through.
In the 72 innings he has batted, Jadeja has faced more than 100 deliveries on eight occasions including his 159-ball 57 at the MCG. And seven of those innings have come since September 2018. In fact, the first time Jadeja faced more than 100 deliveries in a Test innings was in November 2016, when he made 90 against England in Mohali. It felt a significant innings in his career at that point, and it has indeed proved to be the case as he continues to take strides as an all-rounder.
And in the second innings, when India lost services of Umesh Yadav, Jadeja’s inclusion took on extra importance as well.
Finally, there was Rishabh Pant. Unlike the other three in this list, Pant continued to divide opinion. Those who believe in his talent, would see the 40-ball 29 he made as an indication of the flamboyance he brings to the table. Those who remain sceptical would see that he did not make the most of another start while putting down a chance off Ashwin’s bowling to reiterate his perceived weakness with the gloves. The truth, as is usually the case, lies somewhere in the middle.
What cannot be denied, however, is that Pant’s partnership with Rahane was the first definitive change in momentum during India’s first innings that put Australia under pressure. The second day started with the hosts still in with a chance of bundling India out cheaply again and Pat Cummins was spearheading that effort with brilliance. But in one over after tea, Pant smashed Cummins for 12 runs with shots around the ground that dripped with authority. It was subtle, but at that point in time, India were back in control of the match and the Rahane-Jadeja partnership that followed ensured a healthy first innings lead.
And thus, two cricketers making their debut, an all-rounder thrust with a major responsibility on his return from injury and a cricketer who is constantly under pressure for living up to his talent: all four of them played crucial roles in India overcoming the odds to complete a famous win.
Lastly, the man behind those selection calls as well. Cricket stands out in the world of team sport because of the impact captains can have on the proceedings just by their decision-making. While the cliche goes that a captain is good as his/her team, the fact is their choices influence the direction a game heads in, and they have to live with the good and bad of it.
It could just have been a case of Indian fans wondering at this point whether there was too much of a reaction to the Adelaide defeat. If these changes had not paid off, we would be questioning them because that’s how the game goes. It is therefore important to recognise the impact Rahane had on the proceedings while also applauding the think-thank that decided the course of action to be taken in Melbourne. We had seen this in Dharamsala as well, when India decided to account for Kohli’s absence by shoring up the bowling unit and giving themselves the best chance of taking 20 wickets.
And just as he did in that match, it was fitting that Rahane was in the middle, with his bat in hand, when the win was sealed at the MCG. Indeed, the job is not complete yet with two more matches left and the Border Gavaskar Trophy up for retention.
For now, Rahane and Co can bask in the glory of a win that will be remembered for a long time. There could not have been a more poignant way to bring the curtains down on 2020 for the Indian cricket team, a year where we learned the importance of bouncing back from setbacks.