Australia vs India 2018-19: Test titans to lock horns in search for supremacy on Boxing Day
'Tis the season of fun and gifts, jingle bells and merrymaking. However, cricket-lovers around the world are excited as they are in for a treat on Boxing Day, when the No. 1 team in the ICC Test rankings, India, face the Aussies for the third Test in the Border-Gavaskar series.
The tour Down Under was considered an acid test for Team India, after their mellow performance in the England Test outing. On the other hand, Australia came into the series to regain the lost respect of the mighty Baggy Green.
After the first two matches, the series is tied at 1-1. Whoever wins this match in Melbourne, will go into the Sydney Test with a psychological upper hand.
The rapid change of momentum in this series has been overwhelming. The Indian team was a good contender for the crown. Conversely, the home side, for the first time in recorded history, was a bit of an underdog after the ball-tampering controversy, having losing its major powerhouses to it.
The opening Test in Adelaide saw a magnificent performance from Cheteshwar Pujara, and the spin-pace combination of the Indian bowlers prevented any chance of an Australian comeback.
The Baggy Green pride was hurt, and their attitude towards the match changed in the second Test in Perth. Even a century from Virat Kohli was not enough for Team India to clinch victory.
Sparks of fire started from the time of the Indian innings, when the captain's brilliant knock ended in a controversial catch. Tim Paine and Kohli had some heated on-field exchanges, where the umpire had to intervene.
India's batting line-up then crumbled against the Australian spin attack in the fourth innings, and there was an easy victory for the home team to grab. This was the first win for Paine as the Aussie skipper.
The series so far has been filled with contradictions. The pacers from Team India have been performing better than their Australian counterparts, whereas the batsmen are falling like dominoes against the Australian spinners.
Australia started the series with low spirit, and were attacked by the pundits and media alike for their poor performance. The Asian side, on the other hand, are being criticized for their aggression on the field by a number of former Indian cricketers. Sunil Gavaskar even hit out at the team for poor team selection in the second Test.
India's batting line-up basically consists of three consistently performing good batsmen - Kohli, Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, as the opening duo and the tail keep failing miserably in almost every innings. The keeper Rishabh Pant is performing according to expectations, but is often making mistakes that are costing the team dearly.
Among the young blood, there was a lot of hope riding on Prithvi Shaw, but he hurt his ankle and the expectations from him took a hit too. However, the other new face, Hanuma Vihari, showed plenty of grit and determination against the bowling attack and tough pitch conditions.
Not just the cricket fans from India and Australia, but those from all over the world are watching this series with keen enthusiasm and anticipation. And the world is divided in their opinion about the outcome of the series.
On one hand, Matthew Hayden and Sir Viv Richards have put their money on India; while on the other hand, Michael Vaughan is betting on Australia to clinch the series, owing to India's opener woes. Sunil Gavaskar is openly criticizing Virat Kolhi, while the Australian legend, Allan Border is supporting his passion and aggression on the field, stating that the cricket world needs such colorful players.
Yarra Park around MCG is decorated for the Indian summer festival, which was attended by the players from both teams. Though pleasantries were exchanged, the meeting can be compared to the calm before a storm.
Paine will be looking for his first Test series win, while Kohli will try to clinch a foreign Test series victory, along with breaking the record for the most runs scored by an Indian individual in a calendar year.
The match is lit on an open powder keg, and the fireworks are going to begin on the day after Christmas. Only time will tell who will claim the Border-Gavaskar trophy, and whether the Australian summer will belong to Team India or not.
One thing is certain though: it will be a nail-biting contest, where Test Cricket will emerge victorious at the end of the day.