The Melbourne pitch was criticised for being too flat. Many cricket analysts said if one does not score a century on this wicket, they can consider retirement. Yet, Australia was bundled out for 151. No batsmen reached fifty. The abject surrender of Australia’s batsmen, mostly to Jasprit Bumrah’s magnificent 6/33, was not a pleasant sight for their fans. The performance of the Australian batsmen signaled their surrender of their winning spirit. The fact that it happened in Melbourne is poetic justice. On this day, 10 years ago, against South Africa in 2008, Australia were stung hard by JP Duminy and Dale Steyn and they suffered their first series loss at home in 16 years. At that time, the Australian empire had started to crumble. Now, 10 years later, not only is the empire finished but the will to win has crumbled.
There are a lot of parallels to 2008 and 2018. In 2008, Australia had a lead of close to 200 but a 180-run stand between Steyn (76) and Duminy (166) helped South Africa turn the tables and take a 65-run lead. Poor fielding and dodgy selections resulted in Australia paying a heavy price as they lost the Test by nine wickets. This was the beginning of the end. In 2018, on a Melbourne wicket which was criticised as flat, it needed bad shots to get out, something which most batsmen obliged. It needed application, something which Cheteshwar Pujara demonstrated on day 1 and surprisingly Rohit Sharma on day 2. It needed a batsman with a voracious appetite for runs to play confidently, which India has in Virat Kohli. Application, bloody-mindedness and proper judgment, the keys to success in Tests has been missing in the Australia cricket team ever since their world was shaken by the year-long bans on Steve Smith and David Warner, their two key batsmen following the ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town.
In 2008, dropped catches proved to be costly on day 3. In 2018, Australia dropped catches at vital times on day one and two. They dropped Kohli on 47, they gifted a life to Rishabh Pant, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. The volume of runs scored by these players might not look huge on the scoreboard, but slowly, they opened the wounds for Australia as they registered a brilliant total.
The fourth day, which is December 29, also does not have fond memories for Australian fans. Eight years ago, England secured an innings win and retained the Ashes Down Under for the first time in 24 years. The game was decided on the third day itself, on December 28, when Tim Bresnan and the rest of the England bowling provided a master class in reverse swing bowling to run through the Australian batting. As in 2008 and 2018, December 28 was a day when Australia crumbled, this time to the old enemy.
During the modern era and in Australia’s decline, the side took comfort by their performances at home. They would be sliced apart by spin, they would be torn to shreds by swing on a green deck, but they had the comforts of home to fall back on. With a potential defeat staring in their face in Melbourne, Australia might also lose the comforts of home domination. The mid-80s was a time of struggle for the Australian cricket team. The current situation indicates that those times are back.