The idea of a result didn’t seem very promising as Australia began the morning of the fifth and final day of the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with a lead of 22 runs against Pakistan. Although the morning on Friday (December 30) seemed bright and sunny, expecting the game to end in a draw, I had discarded the idea of going to the game.
Walking along the sidewalks of the picturesque, yet crowded sidewalk of Flinders Street, I caught a glimpse of a TV at a café that had the cricket on. Mitchell Starc was unbeaten on 52, captain Steve Smith on 131, Australia with 543 on the board and had a lead of exactly a 100 runs. As I stopped outside to watch the game for a few minutes, replays showed Sohail Khan putting down a sitter off Starc off Azhar Ali and I wondered how many more he would go onto score.
‘Yeah, a draw. Glad I didn’t turn up at the ground. I’m going to be productive.’
Settling into a café called The Journal located in the same building as the CAE (Centre for Adult Education) and the City Library, I checked the score and Australia’s lead was over 150 and Starc was still unbeaten. Not expecting them to declare anytime soon I got on with work and life.
As it turned out, Smith had decided to declare right after Starc and Nathan Lyon were dismissed in successive overs with a lead of 181 and wanting to have a crack at
Pakistan 15 minutes before lunch. I discovered that only after Pakistan were 4 for 65.
‘Oh, no! What have I done? Pakistan are making a mess of this! Am I really going to miss this game being in the same city?!’
‘Get on with work…it’ll still be a draw!’- the alter ego argued.
A fellow journalist, who was to meet me then, arrived and asked me the score. “Oh, Azhar Ali has just fallen!” I exclaimed.
‘Terrible judgement! Should have been at the game! What was I thinking?’
“Do you want to go to the game?” He agreed willingly, saying that he wanted to ask me the same.
We took the closest tram whilst checking the score incessantly, following commentary of every ball on the Cricbuzz app, secretly hoping and praying a wicket doesn’t fall before we reach the MCG, which was about 10 minutes away.
Cricket Australia had opened the gates to the MCG, announcing on Twitter that entry was free for the final session. Over 2000 spectators made their way to the ground in an hour’s time after the declaration after a handful of spectators in the morning.
'29 overs to play… six down…I hope nothing dramatic happens until we get to the ground.’
We made our way into the ground and settled into the closest stand possible as Lyon and Jackson Bird were bowling from either end. Mohammad Amir and Sarfraz Ahmed were chipping away at the runs, albeit the Australian bowlers causing the batsmen some trouble. It was getting mighty close.
Quite a few spectators had come in by now. Everyone was anticipating a wicket every ball. That’s when Smith optimistically reviewed a decision off Amir. Not out. A ball later, however, an inside edge saw the bails flying and Amir had to depart for 11.
‘Seven down, three to go. What timing! Sarfraz is key here... 33 now for an innings win.’
Smith then got back his strike bowlers as Starc and Hazlewood operated from either ends.
‘Something’s going to happen.’
First over back from Starc: Ball 2, Edged and four; Ball 3, Sarfraz is beaten by a beauty; Ball 6, Bowled! Starc surprised Sarfraz with an inswinger and the ball snuck past the inside edge and crashed into the stumps. Sarfraz departed for 43, and you knew the game was almost over.
He returned in his next over to trouble Wahab Riaz. First two balls, two misses. Starc was on song. Ball five, wicket! The ball reversed to crash into the top of offstump as Riaz departed for a duck. With Australia one wicket away, my camera turned into video mode as I wanted to capture the winning moment.
Every ball, I waited with bated breath. The crowd was behind the team now. Australia were one wicket away.
“It’s going to end this over,” I told my friend.
Starc delivered. Three wickets in three overs.
Yasir Shah was looking for the flick, but got a leading edge instead, as the ball lobbed up towards mid on (and gave me enough time to record the moment), where Bird completed the catch comfortably as. The crowd erupted in cheers as Australia picked up a sensational victory by an innings and 18 runs, as Starc finished with four wickets.
It was the third instance this year that a team lost by an innings after scoring over 400 runs in the first innings, after England were beaten by India twice in December.
The fourth day of the Test was when I made my way to the ground after having been in Sydney for the first three days. I landed in Melbourne on the morning of Day 4, and had to attend the game despite my day having started at 3 am. It was the first game I watched from the stands in the last three years, and I enjoyed it way more than what I would have behind the glass cover of the press box.
It was, after all, my first-ever Boxing Day Test.
Attending a Boxing Day Test was always on my bucketlist. The hype around it, the MCG, the large turnout, some of the matches that have been played etched in memory and in some way, the end of a year and the start of a new one. All those mornings that I woke up at 4 am IST, just to ensure I didn’t miss the first ball of a Boxing Day Test, made sense now.
That was my moment of 2016. Cricket might be a funny game, but like the law of nature, it gives you what you give it.