It is one of the most anticipated days in Australian sport. It’s a tradition that brings the spirit of sport and the joy of festival together. It is the Boxing Day Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
This year, Australia and India produced a fine contest between bat and ball to entertain the near 70,000 strong crowd at the ‘G’. While the Australian skipper continued his dream season with yet another 50-plus score, the Indian bowlers produced a combination of discipline and attack throughout the day to pick up five wickets for 259 runs.
The pace trio of Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav bowled a full, accurate line for most of the day, punctuating the attack with bursts of short balls. The spinner, R Ashwin, helped the pacers by keeping one end tied up with his niggardly bowling figures of 27-7-60-1.
Mohammad Shami, who took two wickets for 55 runs in 17 overs on the first day, acknowledged that Ashwin’s control gave him and his fellow pace bowlers the liberty to make their own plans and the confidence to execute them.
“It is very important to keep the pressure up from both ends,” Shami said. “If you bowl well from one end and runs are conceded from the other, it doesn’t make sense.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a spinner or a pacer; if one bowler can hold one end up, it gives the other one a better chance to attack and pick wickets.
“I really liked the way Ashwin did that job or us. That gave us the freedom to try out our lengths and form our plans.”
After having bowled 16 overs in the day, Shami limped off the field in the 78th over, creating an air of concern over his fitness. However, he not only returned on the field but also bowled the last over of the day as the first change bowler with the second new ball.
Explaining the incident, Shami said it was a mild strain which he got treated for, and is now in no trouble. “It was just a slight niggle in the left thigh,” he revealed. “We have to play safe when it comes to our fitness and I just went in to do some stretches. I came on to bowl the last over and I am fine to bowl now.”
Shami is one of the current Indian pacers who can consistently scale 145-plus speeds with the ball. However, the in this series, and especially on the first day of the MCG Test, he didn’t bowl at his fastest. He said he varies his pace based on the amount of purchase he gets from a wicket.
“It depends on the wicket. If it’s a green top and I’m getting help from the wicket, I try to bowl quicker. But on a slow wicket like this and the one in Adelaide, I pay more attention to accuracy rather than speed.”
The pacer, who is known for his ability to get the ball to reverse swing in the home conditions with the SG ball, said the lack of it with the Kookaburra is a challenging aspect for him in this series.
“We don’t get as much reverse swing with the Kookaburra ball as we do with the SG back home,” he said. “So we have to focus more on accuracy. Besides being disciplined with our bowling, we also have to keep our emotions in check and be patient,” Shami said.