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The Liebke Ratings: Australia vs India, second Test

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29th December, 2020
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Australia and India resumed their series at the MCG, in the hundredth time that the two nations had faced one another in Test match cricket.

Any two teams that have head-to-head statistics that include not just wins (43 to Australia, 29 to India), losses (switch ‘em around) and draws (27 each), but also a tie (1) is fine by me.

Here are the ratings for the second Test between Australia and India.

Eccentricities
Grade: B-

India made four changes to their team, with Ravindra Jadeja and Rishabh Pant returning, and Shubman Gill and Mohammad Siraj making Test debuts. Out of the side were Prithvi Shaw, Wriddhiman Saha, Mohammed Shami and, of course, Virat Kohli.

Disappointing to see Kohli axed, but realistically the India management had little choice after that disastrous second innings of the first Test. Let’s hope the former captain can find some form, fight his way back and prove he deserves a place in this side.

Virat Kohli

Virat Kohli (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Batting first, Australia lost Joe Burns for an inevitable duck. Matthew Wade – remembering how poorly India had fielded in the first Test – tried to trick a pair of them into colliding with one another but only succeeded in being caught. Steve Smith arrived, then left, runless, all prior claims that he’d ‘found his hands’ left in tatters.

This left Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head to carry the innings.

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Labuschagne swiftly went into his famously eccentric batting routine, which now includes inexplicably bellowing “no run” after each of his leaves sails through to the keeper.

One day – and it may be sooner than we think – the cameras will cut to Labuschagne constructing a pentagram at cover point before sacrificing a goat (presumably not Nathan Lyon) as he summons forth Beelzebub himself.

“That’s Marnus for you,” the commentators will say. “He’s a unique kind of character.”

DRS controversy
Grade: F

It’s perhaps these kind of dalliances with the dark arts that helped Labuschagne survive a seemingly plumb LBW decision that ball-tracking decreed was going over the top of the stumps, much to everybody’s derision.

It’s hard to keep up with this ball-tracking software. Is it so incredibly millimetre-precision accurate that the entire concept of ‘umpire’s call’ can safely be eliminated in favour of the final verdict of the ball projection (as commentators such as Shane Warne insist)? Or is it occasionally capable of such laughably counterintuitive predictions that it means it can never be fully trusted (as commentators such as Shane Warne insist)? Difficult to say.

Later, Tim Paine also experienced both sides of DRS, being given the benefit of the tiniest amount of doubt in a first innings run-out decision, but then also given out second innings by the tiniest amount of spike on the snickometer. Again, another problem easily solved by technology. Zing bails, zing creases and zing bats in all Tests, please.

Australia failed to make the most of any DRS calls that went their way, however, bowled out in their first innings for 195, late on the first day. Good news for India, who had therefore avoided the follow-on.

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Gladiatorial customs
Grade: B-

Or had they? Because when Mitchell Starc opened up with a snorting over that saw Mayank Agarwal dismissed for a six-ball duck, it seemed possible that India might have perhaps been all out for -5.

Yet somehow they weren’t. Instead, they slowly, methodically, batted Australia out of the match, led by their unrelenting skipper Ajinkya Rahane.

Rahane’s ruthlessness as a leader should have been clear to the Australians from the previous Test, in which he coldly ran out his captaincy predecessor. But he accentuated his refusal to show mercy here, amassing a magnificent century.

He was then run out for 112 by Ravi Jadeja, who – by the gladiatorial customs of Indian cricket – will therefore be the captain for the next Test.

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Dropped chances
Grade: D-

Thanks to those innings from their current and next skippers, India reached 326. The total was assisted by Australia’s poor catching, with at least five chances going down in the field. It was as if none of these Australians know where their hands were.

The tourists’ lead of 131 on the first innings meant that, based on India’s second innings batting in the series so far, Australia needed 168 in their second innings to win.

Even that seemed beyond them, however, after they suffered yet another top-order collapse.

Burns again led the way, at one point having more dives for the crease than runs on the board. The rest of the top order soon followed, as Australia fell to 6-99 when Paine’s previously-discussed DRS luck ran out.

Fortunately, the captain’s wicket meant Australia had finally reached their competent cricketers, with Pat Cummins joining Cameron Green at the crease.

The pair stuck around until stumps on the third day, with Green even giving Australia a slim lead, thanks to a drive down the ground for four in the final over.

At effectively 6-2, hopeful fans were wondering if the young all-rounder could channel Ian Botham at Headingley in 1981 and blast his team to a sensational come-from-behind victory.

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Spoiler: turned out he couldn’t.

Cameron Green of Western Australia

Cameron Green (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

Secrecy
Grade: A-

With the disappointing Green unable in his second Test to channel the spirit of Botham at his peak, Australia were all out for an even 200.

The highlight was Josh Hazlewood, bookending a near-perfect number eleven comedy innings by getting off the mark with a 5 and being dismissed when he left a straight one and was bowled.

India easily chased down the target of 70 to level the series. However, all is not lost for Australia. At the time of writing, the location of the third Test is still under discussion.

Surely, if Australia can keep the whereabouts of the next match under wraps, you’d have to think that’s a massive advantage for the home side.