If South Australians are crow-eaters and Queenslanders banana-benders, Victorians are Mexicans. Name given by New South Welshmen. Because Victoria is south of the border.
Melbourne trams have changed since 2012. No ticket-vending machine on board. Instead, got to buy a prepaid "Myki" card, similar to the Oyster in London. Massive fines if seen without a properly scanned Myki on board. Notice three ladies get on and get off immediately. Notice a ticket-checking officer. Confirms suspicion they were hoping to travel ticketless. Can't fine a person until tram has begun to move.
India resume training. Time only for bowlers and M Vijay to bat before it starts raining. Difficult practice pitches on offer. Mohammed Shami troubles everybody. Vijay has had a full stint without middling one ball in Shami's net. Ishant Sharma jokes after his batting session about how he kept gardening to eat up batting time so he had fewer deliveries to face. Good camaraderie between the young quick bowlers.
Walk from Flinders Street station to MCG is by the Yarra river. Called a river that runs upside down because of its muddy colour. Mainly due to soil erosion and industrial pollution.
If you walk in the afternoon, you get to hear the Federation Bells. Set of 39 harmonic bells - world's first. Different compositions at different times, including those by established Australian composers George Dreyfus and Tony Gould. Beauty is, anybody can write music and have it played on the bells.
William Barak Bridge between the MCG and Federation Square has small speakers on either side playing music from different parts of the world. They call it a shifting soundscape with different forms of music from 52 different countries playing off each speaker, the sounds merging into each other. Over the bridge, music of a different kind will be created in two days' time.
Boxing Day Test. Seventy thousand at the G. In the fourth over of the Test, debutant KL Rahul misfields, and the voice of cricket at the MCG, Bill Lawry says, "Dear, oh dear." Bill is here only for one Test, because he doesn't want to travel, preferring to be with his wife, who is unwell, but when he goes "Dear, oh dear", all seems fine with the world. He has the enthusiasm of a child and the empathy of an old man. As Shane Warne says in the Channel Nine tribute video to Lawry, "Nothing happens at the MCG until Bill says so. When Bill bursts through the gates of the MCG on Boxing Day, anything can happen. And most certainly will."
Have a chat with Lawry about life as a pigeon fancier. Ignorantly ask him to mock-call the home stretch of a pigeon race. He smiles and patiently explains how it is not quite a spectator sport where all the pigeons fly towards a finish line.
Watch Brad Haddin overcome the short ball and score a counterattacking fifty from the maligned member's area. A typical Mexican wave is punctuated with a boo whenever it crosses the members, because they won't get up. Might not be the coolest section of the G but the toilets sure are. Every urinal has a mirror in which you can watch the cricket unobstructed while relieving yourself.
Top row of the MCG stands is almost 200 metres from the action. Even with binoculars the players look like ants. It's intimidating to imagine going out and playing there. Poor KL Rahul has to do it, and at No. 6, not his customary position. Nerves are apparent as he holes out moments after he has been dropped. Centuries from Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, though, lead a strong Indian reply to Australia's 530.
When you are high enough in the stands, the Spidercam begins to obstruct your view. It's an intruder. You spend a long time to get to a seat behind the bowler's arm, and in between you and the keeper comes this unholy creature. Forget distracting the fielders or getting hit by a high ball, the Spidercam also seems to have scared away regular visitors at Australian cricket grounds: the seagulls.
Australianism, as defined by John Arlott: "Single-minded determination to win - to win within the laws but, if necessary, to the last limit within them. It means where the 'impossible' is within the realm of what the human body can do, there are Australians who believe that they can do it - and who have succeeded often enough to make us wonder if anything is impossible to them. It means they have never lost a match - particularly a Test match - until the last run is scored or their last wicket down."
Here, Australia draw a Test before the last ball is bowled. First they delay the declaration so much - initially to bat India out of the series, then to see Shaun Marsh to a hundred - that they give themselves only two sessions to bowl India out. Then with four wickets standing - India's nine, ten and jack are no good - they shake hands with four overs to go. Nothing to lose for Australia here. Just strange to give up. Fans can't get their heads around it, nor does Steven Smith have a proper explanation for it. Completely un-Australian.
Just past midnight on December 30. After the Test, after his post-match press conference, MS Dhoni has informed the world through a media release sent by the BCCI that he has retired from Test cricket. Always expected him to do this without fanfare, but this, coming in the middle of a Test series, is surprising even by his standards. It's typical Dhoni: to do what you expect of him but at a time you least expect it.
Drive from Melbourne to Sydney. Stop for refreshments in the shire of Strathbogie. On the freeway, outside a hotel, is a mural of Ned Kelly and the Gang. This is Ned Kelly country. It's part of the tourism industry now. Euroa, one of the towns in the shire, is the site of one of the Kelly Gang's more daring acts, their robbery of the National Bank.
A hero in the Robin Hood mould, or just a thief and callous murderer? Sunshine, his father used to call him. Angry letters he used to write to the newspapers, with full details of how he would make an example of those who help the police, "by the light that shines pegged on an ant-bed with their bellies opened, their fat taken out, rendered and poured down their throats". When he was finally sentenced to death, Kelly told the judge, Redmond Barry, "May God have mercy on your soul. I will see you there when I go." Twelve days after Kelly was hanged, Judge Barry died too, unexpectedly, from a carbuncle.
Back to the SCG. Test match still four days away. Sit by the Kippax Lake. Absolutely quiet but for the sound of birds. Gentle breeze provides relief from insane heat. Had Dhoni made it here, his retirement would have been totally understandable, because this is the sort of place that can bring about thoughts of retiring.
Back when the modern stands hadn't come up, legend has it that Doug Walters hit one into the lake across the road. Apparently it bounced outside the stadium, and continued into the lake. There is another theory that it stopped just metres before the water. Ashley Mallett's book on Walters quotes the man himself: "It is a huge carry and it couldn't have possibly landed in the lake on the full. But the ball returned wet."
A hoarding outside the SCG advertising the series has Harris, Siddle, Watson, Pattinson, Clarke, Johnson and Haddin. Only one of them is fully fit right now. Three back-to-back Tests and the heat have taken their toll.
Watson is asked what he thinks of Michael Clarke's presence in the Channel Nine commentary box. He says, "I don't listen to commentary. Not when I am not doing well." Always knew Watson would have good sense of humour. You need it when you are so abundantly talented but haven't realised your potential.
"If there weren't cockroaches, it wouldn't be Sydney," says the welcome note in the house I am living in. Also moths and spiders. The Brisbane house had possums. Some parts of Australia refer to New South Welshmen as cockroaches.
Houses in Australia all have many TVs. A big one in the living room to watch cricket. A small one in the kitchen so as to not miss cricket when cooking. Even bedrooms have one each. When they work on their gardens, they take radios along, or rely on Bill Lawry's screaming to alert them to anything dramatic happening.
Miss meeting Martin Crowe, who was in Sydney earlier in the week. His invitation to come meet him said: "Won't have much time but always make time for beige lovers." Martin is fighting cancer, has given up chemo, talks of death, but has been taking time out to write cricket pieces. In a press conference in Auckland, he picks New Zealand and South Africa as favourites to play the World Cup final. Says he wants to be remembered as "genuine, real, authentic, not false, not masked".
Run into another beige lover, Danny Morrison, whose sane avatar has arrived at the Sydney press box for sane radio commentary on a Test match. Get into a people's-eyebrow contest with him and lose. Danny's good with the brow. That's the look Kohli should be giving his bowlers, who have been ordinary again and have conceded 2 for 348 on the first day.
"Oh, you are wearing the same shorts again," says Sunil Gavaskar, now doing commentary here. "Somebody said the same thing to me at The Oval about your shorts, but I told him, 'How do you know he doesn't have many pairs of the same?'" Better if the mystique remains.
Steven Smith drops Rahul. A sitter. Lost it in the wire of the Spidercam, which, apparently, more than being a Channel Nine gimmick, has been insisted upon by Cricket Australia. Now that's a can of redbacks opened by the Australian captain. Rahul goes on to score a century, redemption of sorts after nervous first showings with the bat and in the field. Kohli, too, scores a century. Match headed for a draw.
Kids playing cricket outside the SCG. One of them hits a six, screams "That's Phillip's score" and goes down to kiss the patch of land next to him. Warner did that on day one of the Test, to the spot where Phillip Hughes fell more than a month ago during a first-class match. How kids learn from what players do on the field. Something for Warner and Kohli to keep in mind before they send someone off the next time.
Nor is India's bowling worth emulating. They concede 251 in 40 overs to give Australia a shot at an overnight declaration, and 90 overs to bowl India out.
India hang on to a draw thanks to Vijay, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, three batsmen who have carried the team through the series. All of a sudden Kohli is respectful of Australia. Says in press conference that India's bowlers need to learn from Josh Hazlewood. Says he respects that Australia went for the win in Sydney. Kohli doesn't know, but Smith - waiting for his press conference - is listening. Nods in approval. After all the nastiness on the field, there is respect. Possibly because it is the end of the series. All bitterness and hostility seem to have been forgotten. That's the beauty of sport. They no longer go to other dressing rooms and share beers, but there are always handshakes.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo