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First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
I have been following the game religiously for at least two decades and got initiated into the whole Boxing Day tradition with India's Durban debacle of 1996. Earlier this year, my brother had tickets to India's Lords' Test but couldn't make it. That's when the idea of flying down to Melbourne popped into my head.
India, but I was also looking forward to particular players in action - Sehwag, Dravid, Zaheer and Ponting. In the lead up to the 26th, my only concern was about how thin and fragile India's pace line-up looked.
One great addition to the viewing experience here in Australia is the compact earpiece radios on sale with a choice of ABC and Channel 9 commentary. Harsha Bhogle, on air for ABC, likened Ed Cowan to an F1 safety car - slow but useful. But Umesh Yadav was easily the impact player of the day. Even when not taking wickets, Yadav bowled with pace and vigour, leaked boundaries aplenty and kept the crowd interested at all times.
One thing I'd have changed about the match
I came to the MCG with memories, starting with the 1992 World Cup final and the anticipation of a packed ground and a cauldron atmosphere matching that for India's 2003 Test here. Maybe it was the damp start and the many empty seats, or maybe it was where we were seated - at ground level in the Great Southern Stand, but I just couldn't feel the imposing gladiatorial air the G is renowned for. Maybe day three will be different, if the sun is out and the local favourite (by far), Sachin Tendulkar, is batting.
Contest I enjoyed
Given prior history, I had been looking forward to Ishant Sharma v Ricky Ponting, and the contest didn't disappoint as Ishant beat Ponting with bounce early in his innings. India were loose after lunch but Ishant's spell after mid-day drinks was pacy and probing. I would have left him on for another over (like in Perth 2008), but I think that spell set it up for Yadav to come back and prise out Punter with the third ball of a new spell.
Zaheer is the leader of India's attack and was conspicuous by his absence all morning. His late-afternoon spell wasn't much better but you could tell when he suddenly bent his back that much more in the first ball of a new over, around the wicket to Michael Clarke. Wickets off the next two balls and the Zak we know was back, even if briefly.
Filling the gaps
I was watching the game with the family (shout out to bro, who couldn't fly in!) and spent the extended lunch break taking pictures, picnicking on Christmas day vegetable pulao leftovers and stadium-made chicken sandwiches, and gazing at the symmetry of ladies' ankles.
Shot of the day
Clarke's upper cuts against a charged-up Yadav were fun to watch but Ponting's charge after lunch will stay in the mind. His almost over-balanced hooking and pulling were good, and the up-on-the-toes punches off the back foot better, but the most memorable shot of the innings was a flick through midwicket that left Virat Kohli motionless as the ball sped through a still wet outfield.
Towards the end of play, the big screens flashed the day one attendance as 70,086, beating the previous Australia-India record from 2007. To be honest, it didn't feel like a record crowd, sitting as we were with a view of the barely full Northern stands. But there was visible anticipation on everyone's faces as we took the tram and walked into the MCG in the morning, and the atmosphere was colorful and festive throughout. The home crowd was not partisan but got behind Ponting right from the moment he walked in, and they delivered a standing ovation for his half-century. The Swami Army added a dash of blue in the stands and got Mexican Waves going every now and then.
Debutant and top scorer Ed Cowan is supposed to be best man for a friend's wedding this Friday, and his friends hope for a four-day Indian win so he can make the wedding! How do I know? The whole row behind ours was taken up by Eddie's mates, who kept both beer and knowledegable comments flowing through the day. One guy, Pete, wore a blonde wig, fake breasts, and more fake hair (you don't want to know where) and raised the oomph quotient in our stand by several notches.
Unlike my last few times at a cricket match (at IPL games in India), there was thankfully no music blaring on the public address system or cheerleaders on the boundaries. The sponsors had their things going in the breaks, and Mark Nicholas was on the big screen with Merv Hughes at tea time, but more interesting was the Kiss Cam, where the camera would zoom in on couples (or not) and they had to pucker up. Most were obliging, and all in good holiday cheer.
Tests v limited-overs
Given that the last time I watched an entire day's play was the Bangalore Test against Pakistan in 2005 and have since watched a half-dozen IPL matches, it took me well into a session to settle into watching Test cricket again. The first 40 minutes was all nerves (first big game away!) before I could start to make sense of the proceedings. In Twenty20 matches, you watch for moments, but over a day of Test cricket you see ebbs and flows and passages of play, not to forget four seasons in one day, from wet to cloudy to blue skies to gentle breeze. If I had to choose and had the time, I would pick Test cricket any day.
We live in the age of Facebook and Twitter, and posting status updates and pictures online seemed as important as experiencing the cricket itself. Midway through the morning session, I could barely get the net going on my mobile. That's what 50,000 spectators checking into the MCG with their phones can do.
Marks out of 10
8. I would have loved a fuller ground and more sustained hostility from the Indian pacers, but after 250-plus runs, lots of boundaries, and six good wickets for the Indians, I am pretty pleased with my first day at the MCG. I hope to be back here on day three.
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