Melbourne, a city with a heart and soul

Not far from the city is the winding Great Ocean Road that offers a spectacular view of of the sea. And then is Phillip island where the penguins waltz. Melbourne and its surrounding areas have many splendours.

Rishabh Pant and Tim Paine had nice little ‘conversations’, which lightened the mood at the MCG.   -  AFP

Melbourne brings with it a lot of charm. It’s a very European city in Australia, old buildings merge with new. There are tramlines that snake through the suburbs. Then, there are suburban trains that are so punctual that you can actually set your time on the watch, watching them arrive and leave.

The city centre is lined up with bistros. There are some popular Indian restaurants, too. And the ubiquitous taxis zip around the city. Melbourne is a city with a heart and soul. Not far away from the city is the winding Great Ocean Road that offers a spectacular view of of the sea. And then is Phillip island where the penguins waltz. Melbourne and its surrounding areas have many splendours. And the city has the MCG. A huge arena that has been home to several stirring cricket duels. It’s a massive concrete structure tuned in to the demands of modern day cricket and fans.

The cricket caravan, too, has moved to Melbourne. It’s time for the Boxing Day Test, a massive cricketing and social occasion in Australia’s cricket calendar. The series, too, is on a razor’s edge. It’s 1-1 after the Australians fought back on a bouncy Perth pitch.

And following the altercation of sorts between Virat Kohli and Tim Paine in Perth, the cricketing temperatures have risen, too.

Meanwhile, Christmas is coming and the shops and restaurants are well lit. Some do last-minute shopping. The spirit has caught on and there is an air of festivity.

The Indians have a practice session on the pitches outside the MCG arena. There are a lot of discussions and debates. Would R. Ashwin, grappling with an abdominal strain, be fit in time for the match? Was there a possibility of M. Vijay receiving one more opportunity?

In a bold move, India decides to replace both its out-of-form openers Vijay and K. L. Rahul. Debutant Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari, promoted in the order, walk out to open. There is no Ashwin too; Ravindra Jadeja comes in.

All roads lead to the MCG for the Boxing Day Test. The stands of this imposing stadium, almost full, are throbbing with life.

Mayank, impressing on debut with temperament, balance and striking ability, and Vihari, stubborn and hard to dislodge, keep their partnership going till the ball loses its sheen, making it easier for Pujara and Virat Kohli to expand the innings.

Pujara constructs another monument — his second century of the series — and then Jasprit Bumrah strikes with his whippy hard-to-pick quick-arm action.

Watching the game, pace bowling legend Glenn McGrath says, “I haven’t seen anyone like Bumrah. He comes in from a short run-up and powers through to the crease.”

Meanwhile, the banter between the chirpy Indian wicketkeeper batsman Rishabh Pant and Australian captain Tim Paine, picked up by the stump microphones, lightens the mood. The Australian skipper taunts Pant by asking him to babysit his children while he takes his wife for movies and Pant responds, calling Paine a “temporary captain.”

Rishabh Pant accepted Tim Paine’s challenge to babysit his children, and when the two teams met the Australian Prime Minister in Sydney, the Indian stumper posed for a photograph with Paine’s wife and kids. The picture went viral on social media.   -  Bonnie paine’s Instagram

 

On the field of play, Australia continues to lose ground despite a vibrant all-round display by Pat Cummins.

Rain threatens to delay India’s victory on the fifth morning, but once play resumes in the morning, India does not take long to go 2-1 in the series. The Indians have a lot to celebrate going into the new year. Australia, without Steve Smith and David Warner, and down in confidence, is in danger of losing its first Test series to India on home soil.

Australia celebrates the new year. Fireworks lit up the skies in Sydney and Melbourne. And when the two teams meet the Australian Prime Minister in Sydney on New Year Day, Pant holds Paine’s daughter with the Aussie captain’s wife watching. The picture goes viral.

India is on the brink of making history. Even a draw would fetch India its first Test series triumph in Australia.

Sydney has a distinctly different feel to it than any other Australian city. It’s a many-layered place that has taken care to preserve its history. The Indians make a mess of picking their team for the Test. First, skipper Virat Kohli excludes R. Ashwin from the shortlist for the match. Then the side does a U-turn and Ashwin is back in contention.

The message emerging from the team management is that Ashwin would play. In the morning, the off-spinner is not a part of the squad.

Kohli wins yet another crucial toss and Pujara bats on and on. His third hundred of the series is a big one — a 193. Later Paine says, “Pujara has faced a million balls in the series.” And the vibrant Rishabh Pant blasts a hundred to put the Test beyond Australia’s reach. The host is on the mat.

The third day of the Test is a special one. The crowd comes dressed in pink to support McGrath’s endeavour to collect funds for breast cancer patients. McGrath’s first wife, Jane, passed away owing to cancer of the breast and he is doing his bit to ensure other lives are saved.

In the arena, the Indians are already in a celebratory mood. After all, they are on course to making history.