Chases down a small target after some dogged rearguard action from the visitors
It may be time for Australia to introspect the rapid fall in standards when playing overseas and the right phase for India to reflect on the three Test triumphs that helped the home team regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, following a convincing show at the PCA Stadium here, on Monday.
That Australia has failed to stir up its famed resilience has obviously been the key factor in India dominating the series thus far. India, in amiable conditions against an opposition not at its best — depleted and collectively out of form — was expected to swat the opponents and it did, raising visions of a clean sweep with the last Test scheduled to begin at Delhi from Friday.
The young brigade that marks India’s transition process was at its best. With appreciable help from the pitch, the trio of R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Pragyan Ojha played havoc with the batsmen, reducing them to objects of ridicule as they repeatedly groped for the ball. The Aussies were as clueless as ever, after resuming at 75 for three, and capitulated to lose the match by six wickets.
Pujara as opener
India was set a target of 133 and the task was accomplished with 15 balls left in the quota of overs available. Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara opened the innings, the latter promoted in place of Man-of-the-match Shikhar Dhawan, who injured his finger when fielding on the fourth day. The injury has put a question mark on his availability for the next Test on home turf.
Vijay was neither hassled nor hustled as he went about his work with the confidence that has been an essential ingredient of his comeback journey. A natural stroke-player, Vijay can be as delightful as any, moving into position flawlessly to play exquisite shots on either side, especially the nonchalant flick. He paid the penalty for attempting an inside-out drive and was stumped.
Virat Kohli stepped up to carry on the winning campaign with the help of Pujara. The contest was closed after Sachin Tendulkar (21 run out), M.S. Dhoni, with three consecutive fours to finish the game, and Jadeja (two rousing boundaries), maintained the trend of small partnerships.
For Australia, once again, Starc alone displayed the attitude and technique to counter the bowling which relied more on the spinners. After his convincing 99 at No. 9 in the first innings, he carried on with the same assurance and confidence, this time at No 10, to make the Indian bowlers work hard for his scalp. If only Starc could bat higher in the order, an option available to the out-of-depth Australian batting line-up for the next match.
Spinners on top
The uncertainty in the Australian ranks was exploited by the Indian spinners even though Phil Hughes and Nathan Lyon looked to defy them. It was too good to last and Lyon’s dismissal gave the Indians a window to sneak in. The wicket of Michael Clarke opened the doors to victory.
Hughes was disappointed by the leg-before ruling but Moises Henriques fell to a splendid return catch by Jadeja, who dived to his left to complete the catch.
Hughes was not at his best but he was dogged and willing to value his wicket. The procession at the other end may have put greater burden on his shoulders. He did not mind and stuck it out until his departure took the wind out of the Australian sails.
The batsmen lacked application and ended up giving Jadeja and Ojha flattering figures on a helpful pitch. Hughes and Starc apart, none of the Australians could raise his game. The innings was dire and the end inevitable. Dhoni continued to trust Ishant Sharma to excel with the old ball but the bowler proved a miserable foil to his partners. The spinners did their job by keeping a steady length and experimenting with the line to keep the batsmen under constant pressure.
Their good work paved the way for India taking a 3-0 lead in the four-match series.