It ended with unseemly haste, this magnificent Boxing Day Test, the final act a let down after what had preceded it.
The fourth day began with the contest evenly balanced: Australia was 230 ahead; India needed two wickets to get its chase started.
The moment demanded courage, ambition, skill, and fortune. Australia had these qualities in greater measure on Thursday.
Australia added 61 on the fourth morning, 43 of these coming from the bats of its last pair, the impressive James Pattinson and the sensible Ben Hilfenhaus.
Then, these two and Peter Siddle did it with the ball, asking searching, uncomfortable questions of the Indian batsmen. There were few answers, Sachin Tendulkar's 32 and R. Ashwin's 30, minor ripostes, but no more.
Pursuing 292 — keep in mind that no target of more than 200 has been successfully chased at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 49 years — India was bowled out for 169.
The wicket hadn't stopped assisting the bowlers: the grass thatch had dried into a straw thatch under a yellow sun, but it still allowed the seamers movement. By no means, however, did the conditions warrant another abject collapse.
India could have made things easier had it excised the Australian lower order quicker. The touring side lacked a spot of luck: Michael Hussey, who made 89, survived an ‘lbw' appeal and a caught-behind appeal against Umesh Yadav, both of which the technology (ball-tracking and Hot Spot) confirmed were out.
Hussey was on 80 then, and Australia led by 238. But the left-hander was wrongly given out in the first-innings; the old chestnut about luck evening up hasn't been proved true as swiftly.
It was India's decision moreover not to use the assistance of technology. Also, India did itself no favours in the field.
Rahul Dravid shelled Hussey on Wednesday evening. Zaheer Khan, who had Hussey caught behind in the midst of a superb spell, put Pattinson down when the batsman was on 15.
It wasn't an easy chance. Zaheer had to run in from fine-leg to take the top-edged hook off Umesh. But it should have been caught at this level. Zaheer's lack of poise and his early committal to a near-prone position cost him.
The target, had the opportunity been taken, would have been 254. It would have changed matters slightly, particularly the mood and the momentum. The mindset of the bowlers and the fielding captain would have been less assured, for there would have been less to play with.
But this is merely by way of observation; it's not an excuse for the failure of the Indian batting. Virender Sehwag went early, Hussey pulling down a streaking comet at gully. Australia's joy at getting the danger-man couldn't be contained.
Gautam Gambhir survived till lunch, like he had in the first-innings, but fell afterwards in a manner reminiscent of the first-innings. The moving, bouncing ball across the left-hander did the trick for Siddle.
Neither Dravid nor V.V.S. Laxman could keep Tendulkar company for too long. Dravid was bowled for the third time this match (one was a no-ball). Pattinson's angle from wide on the crease and the off-cut on the ball combined so it knifed through Dravid's defensive stroke, which for once hadn't bat and front pad sealed together. The high pace gave the delivery the edge it needed.
Laxman's was a softer dismissal. He was again constrained by Australia's bowlers, garrotted by a testing line and length. When a ball to flick arrived, he couldn't keep it down. He was caught at square-leg.
A run later, Virat Kohli was trapped in front of the stumps by a tight in-ducker from Hilfenhaus — 69 for five.
Tendulkar looked in brilliant touch at the beginning, and though uncertainty crept into his game, his class showed. But Siddle got him for the second time in the match.
The dismissal wasn't as spectacular as the first-innings, for the delivery hadn't as much outright quality. But it was cleverer: a slight drop in pace, from an average of 142 kmph to 133, had Tendulkar reaching for the ball. He sheared it to gully.
Ashwin and Dhoni attacked, the former looking competent, the latter trying to adapt his game. But, like with Umesh later in the order, the runs were no more than irritants to Australia. They made India's total look marginally less embarrassing, but Australia wasn't going to be denied.
India will go to the second Test 0-1 down, a position it has grown accustomed to, overseas.
Keywords: India's tour of Australia