Conversely, India were steeled by their humiliation in Adelaide and came to Melbourne in a resolute mood. Ajinkya Rahane took personal responsibility and set the example. His premier bowlers, Jasprit Bumrah and Ravi Ashwin, are world class in any conditions, and debutant Mohammed Siraj was able to cover not only for the absent Mohammed Shami but, in Australia’s second innings, also for the injured Umesh Yadav. India needed only three bowlers to dismiss Australia for 200 on a good pitch; the thrashing in Melbourne was even more comprehensive than it looked.
One thing that can be said is that “momentum”, a concept beloved of commentators, is a myth. The only momentum Australia carried from Adelaide to the MCG was the great rolling swell of praise for how good they were. So overwhelming was the positive publicity that this column suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that they go easy on India in Melbourne. They did a pretty good job of that. And Team India did more than a good job in showing how much Test cricket means to them.
The spacing out of the matches due to COVID might lessen the effect of momentum, but even when Test cricket was played back-to-back, and momentum was considered irresistible, it has counted as a negative influence recently. Whether by confronting trauma – as Australia did after Headingley in 2019 – or ignoring it and focusing on the positives, as India did after Adelaide this month, elite teams have developed the skill of leaving bad experiences behind. Those ‘mental scars’ also seem something of a furphy.
Containing the players in a COVID-safe bubble has as-yet unknown effects, but they do not interrupt the pattern of verb-and-reverb. Perhaps, by forcing players together to stew in their prevailing mood of superiority or shame, the bubble accentuates it.
All of this is ultimately descriptive rather than explanatory. If anyone knew the secret of these things, there wouldn’t be a billion-dollar sports betting industry to profit from our theories. It’s possible that when teams in any sport are closely matched and professional in their approach, the distribution of wins and losses is somewhat random. If that were true and we accepted it, analysts would be as redundant as the Australian batting coach. So let’s put that uncomfortable possibility to one side.
Added together, all of these factors lining up in India’s favour make Australia more and more likely to win the next match. The lover of Test cricket, spoilt by the seven see-sawing days we have seen so far, can never get tired of expecting the unexpected.