India bundled out Australia for 151 in the first innings immediately after tea on the third day of the third Test match at Melbourne. India thereby took a lead of 292 in the first innings. For India, Jasprit Bumrah took 6 for 33. India finish the day on 54 for 5 with an overall lead of 346 going into the fourth day’s play.
When India took a first innings lead of 292, everyone expected them to enforce the follow-on and go for the kill. However, captain Virat Kohli decided to bat again. After VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid’s coup at Eden Gardens all the way back in 2001, captains have normally been reluctant to enforce the follow-on. This brings us to the discussion about Kohli’s surprise decision.
#1 The psychological advantage and the huge first innings lead
The first innings lead of 292 was a huge lead. If it had been 210 or so, Kohli could have been justified in his decision but with huge first innings lead he could have gone in for the kill without any hesitation. That would have given India the psychological advantage for the rest of the series. Besides, there is enough in this pitch to clean up Australia for less than 292 in the second innings.
#2 The Indian bowlers were not all that exhausted
In the first innings, the Indian bowlers managed to knock over Australia in 67 overs. Out of the 67 overs, 28 overs were bowled by the spinners, The remaining 39 overs were shared among the 3 fast bowlers. Out of which Mohammad Shami had bowled a mere 10 overs. The Indian bowlers were not all that exhausted. They could have had a crack at the Aussie batsmen before the close of play on day 3.
#3 Weather interference on the cards on the last day
There are chances of weather interfering the proceedings on the last day of the Test match. Though cricket is not played with one eye on the sky, it is always better to heed to weather forecast rather than being sorry in the end.
#4 Making it easier for Australia to play out for a draw by wasting precious time
By not enforcing the follow-on, Kohli has now given a chance for Australia to play for a draw as crucial time will be consumed by the Indian batting in the second innings. Australia would now look to bat out the fourth day and hope for the best on the last day.
#5 History against Kohli
It is not every day an Indian captain gets a chance to enforce a follow-on against Australia in Australia. The last time Australia were asked to follow-on in Australia was back in 1986 against England in Brisbane. England won that match by 7 wickets. Saurav Ganguly had a chance to enforce the follow-on at Sydney in 2003. Like Kohli, he opted to bat on in the second innings and Australia managed to hang on to a draw in Steve Waugh’s last Test match.
#6 The positives gained so far in the match compromised by a single decision
In this Test match, everything went as per plan for India. Kohli first won a crucial toss and India put up a big score in the first innings which enabled them to take a huge first innings lead. By not enforcing the follow-on, India failed to take advantage of all these positives that had happened before in this Test match. Kohli cannot be expected to be fortunate in all these aspects in the next match at Sydney.
Besides, in this series, Australia are without two of their best batsmen, David Warner and Steve Smith. Who knows what is in store for India on their next tour of Australia?
#7 The confidence of the Indian batsmen dented in the second innings
By allowing the Indian batsmen to bat again on a deteriorating pitch, their confidence has been shattered going into Sydney. The noughts that the Indian star batsmen Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli got in the second innings and the failures of Hanuma Vihari, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma would not have done any good to their confidence facing up to Pat Cummins next time. In hindsight, India could have definitely avoided this situation.
#8 Australia’s earlier batting performances in the series not at all threatening
On better batting pitches at Adelaide and Perth, Australia scored 235, 291, 326 and 243. On a deteriorating pitch in Melbourne, India could have settled for a lead of 292 in the first innings and enforced the follow-on. In any case, the chances of India losing after taking the first innings lead of 292 were minimal. But that could have given sufficient time and a definite mandate in favour of India without going through the anxiety of weather interference.
#9 Instantaneous opportunity missed in retaining the Border – Gavaskar Trophy
India is the No 1 Test team in ICC Test ranking. But unfortunately, they are yet to win a Test series in Australia. By winning the Melbourne Test at the quickest possible time, they could retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy irrespective of whatever happens in the last Test at Sydney.
By prolonging the proceedings at Melbourne, they are leaving everything at the hands of the weather god. Thankfully for India, Cummins’ late strikes in the second innings have been a blessing-in-disguise for them as far as achieving a result in their favour. Remember the second innings at Adelaide where India lost 4 wickets for the addition of 4 runs which put a swift end to their innings. In the end, that gave India that much extra time to take 10 Australian wickets in their second innings. Similarly, this collapse against Cummins might hasten India's victory.
Cummins’s wicket-taking spree late in the day has accelerated this match forward. Now India are left with only Mayank Agarwal to hang around and others to throw their bat around. This match might, after all, get over in four days well before the heavens open up.