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December 25, 2003
The MCG: Where fast bowlers come home to
© Getty Images
The pace and bounce at Melbourne is expected to be to the Australians' liking, but India can take encouragement from the fact that this is the only venue in Australia where they have won two Tests - in 1977-78, and then again three years later. India have lost five times there, though, while the 1985-86 Test ended in a draw. Australia, meanwhile, have a 52-28 win-loss record here.
Both the Indian wins were achieved through exceptional bowling performances: in 1977-78, BS Chandrasekhar ripped through an Australian line-up weakened by the Kerry Packer exodus, claiming 6 for 52 in both innings as India romped to a 222-run win. Then, in 1980-81, Kapil Dev turned it on, taking 5 for 28 as Australia, chasing 143 for victory, were bundled out for 83. India let go of another chance to win when, requiring 126 in the fourth innings in the 1985-86 series, they crawled to 59 for 2 in 25 overs.
Australia's five victories against India here have all been emphatic ones - two of them by an innings, three by margins greater than 175 runs and one by eight wickets.
Winning the toss would normally count as a blessing, but at the MCG, the captain losing the toss has a better chance of going on to win the match - that is exactly what has happened in six of the last nine Tests here.
Fast bowlers have had far greater success than spinners at Melbourne. In all Tests since 1995, fast bowlers have taken 198 wickets at 27.92, with a strike rate of 58.66; for the spinners the 58 wickets have come more expensive - 37.76 - and at a much slower rate (79.14).
Sachin Tendulkar has had a lean run in Australia so far, but the last time he played a Test at Melbourne, he was in sublime touch, scoring 116 and 52. As with so many of his overseas centuries, it didn't help alter the result of the match, as Australia swept to a 180-run win.
Another player who would have fond memories of the MCG, and of playing against India on that ground, is Brett Lee. The last time the Indians played a Test there, Lee bounded in and blasted out five batsmen for a smashing debut performance, ensuring that Tendulkar's sterling effort with the bat would go unrewarded.
India have some firepower in the bowling rank themselves, and Zaheer Khan and co. could do worse than ask for tips from Bruce Reid, their bowling coach for this series. In Reid's only match against India at Melbourne in 1991-92, he bagged a six-for in each innings, finishing with figures of 12 for 126 and the Man-of-the-Match award.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?