India took a 2-1 lead in the four-match Test series on Sunday, beating hosts Australia by 137 runs at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). The victory also ensured that Virat Kohli and Co cannot lose the series and thus will retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, having won the previous series at home, last year.
Coming into the Test on the back of a 146-run loss, India turned the corner in the third Test to end the year on a high.
Jasprit Bumrah was declared Player of the Match for his match haul of 9/86, but the win was a result of India seizing a number of key moments. Listed below are some of the turning points from the Melbourne Test that swung the match in India's favour:
In the two Tests preceding this, the Murali Vijay-KL Rahul pair had scored a grand total of 70 runs across four innings in Adelaide and Perth, 63 of which had come in a single effort — in the second innings of the first Test that India won. While Vijay's inclusion in the playing XI was thanks to Prithvi Shaw's unfortunate injury, KL Rahul did himself no favour by capping a disappointing year in Tests with three single-digit scores in four attempts.
The extended failure of openers not only handed early momentum to the opposition, but also exposed Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli to the new ball, and if not for their respective centuries in the first two Tests, the scorecards could well have told a different tale.
As the chorus for change gathered steam post-Perth, Mayank Agarwal was flown in to shoulder the opening responsibilities with Hanuma Vihari. While Agarwal is a seasoned opener and ended the last edition of Ranji Trophy as the highest scorer, Vihari, many believed, was being made a scapegoat to accommodate Rohit Sharma at No 6. Whatever the case, the new opening combination clicked in Melbourne.
Agarwal scored a remarkable 76 on debut, while Vihari, despite scoring just eight runs in the first innings, ensured that the duo weathered the new ball for 18.5 overs – the most an Indian opening pair has batted in a long time. Even in the second innings, the youngsters held fort for 13 overs before Pat Cummins stunned the middle order with a four-wicket burst.
The makeshift pair will be discontinued when Shaw returns from injury or Rahul forces his way back in the XI, but India must thank Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari for giving them the right headstart in the crucial Test.
Virat Kohli-Cheteshwar Pujara pair gets going
Easily the best batsmen of the team, the experienced duo stepped up in the Boxing Day Test with a match-defining 170-run stand for the third wicket. Pujara scored his slowest Test ton and finished with a 319-ball 106, while Kohli took 204 balls for his 82 runs. However, as Japrit Bumrah would later prove, each run scored by the Indian middle order lynchpins, did its bit in pushing Australia out of contention.
Pujara and Kohli resisted Mitchell Starc, Cummins and Josh Hazlewood on a tricky pitch, put consolidation over funk, and showed that batting was indeed possible on this far-from-perfect pitch. Their 68-over alliance was not without its share of luck — Kohli was dropped in the final session of Day 1 — but the pair ensured they rode their luck and bat Australia out of the match. Thanks to useful contributions from Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, and Rishabh Pant, India declared their first innings at 443-7, which, on this pitch, was always going to be a tall order for the hosts.
Forget the numbers. Ignore the records. If you watched Jasprit Bumrah bowl on Friday morning, you'd be rightly convinced that the year belonged to the wiry, fast man from India who shed his 'white-ball bowler' tag in style. His six-wicket burst on Day 3 scuttled the hosts for 151 runs in their first innings, making the result a foregone conclusion.
Bumrah tested the Aussies with pace, but more heartening was his knack to set the batsmen up and plot their dismissals. His slow yorker to get rid of Shaun Marsh at the stroke of lunch will be watched over and over again – a just reminder that the smarts of cross-format bowling can't be hushed away anymore.
This was Bumrah's third five-wicket haul of the year, and each of those has resulted in an Indian win. His admission of first-class matches being responsible for developing his reverse swing was just as crucial, underlining the fact that hardwork hardly goes waste. Perhaps a clue for other Test regulars?
Left-arm spin of Ravindra Jadeja
After receiving a lot of flak for not going with any specialist spinner in the second Test, the Indian team management, made a more sensible decision by drafting Ravindra Jadeja. The left-arm spinner complimented the Indian pace battery well, tying one end and ensuring the pressure maintained from both ends. Jadeja troubled the left-handers Aussie batsmen, especially Khawja and Travis Head. He bowled more than one thirds of India's overs in the first innings, claiming two key wickets. In the second innings with more rough patches on the pitch to aim at, the Saurashtra spinner bagged three crucial wickets.
Pat Cummins' defiant fifty
Cummins turned out to be the standout player from the Australian camp in this Test, having rattled the Indian batting unit in their second innings to register figures of 6/27. He then frustrated their attack with a classic rearguard innings of 63, stretching the match onto the fifth day. With the first session of the final day getting washed out, the hosts had some hope of securing an unlikely draw as long as Cummins was around. Unfortunately for them, his resistance was ended by an equally brilliant Bumrah, with Lyon departing not long after.