Australia's fast men obliterated India with bowling of sustained hostility and direction to deliver a handsome 122-run victory to the hosts, on day four of the first Test at the MCG.
James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle made a fearful mess of India's batting, sharing nine wickets between them to bring a swift conclusion to a match that had fluctuated often over the course of the previous three days. In doing so they finished with the ball what had started with the bat - Australia's tail deflated India in the morning by stretching the target to 292.
Pattinson's contribution on his home ground was telling, first stroking an unbeaten 37 then firing out Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman while also softening up Sachin Tendulkar for Siddle, who claimed him with his first ball after relieving the younger Victorian. The end arrived 70 minutes after tea, Australia claiming a 1-0 series lead in their quest to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
The result was a vindication of Australia's team selection and the full length pursued by the team's pacemen under the guidance of the bowling coach Craig McDermott. The captain Michael Clarke and the coach Mickey Arthur will now focus their efforts on ensuring the heights reached on day four in Melbourne are not undone by a poor follow-up in Sydney, as has been the pattern in recent Tests.
By contrast India's surrender exhumed the batting shortcomings exposed by the unhappy tour of England earlier this year. The difference at the MCG was that Australia had to counter a far stronger visiting bowling attack, on a well-prepared pitch that remained lively throughout the Test. It was watched by a 189,347 spectators, the most for a Test between Australia and India in this country.
In the morning, Michael Hussey had added only 10 to his overnight 79 before receiving a blistering delivery from Zaheer Khan, but Pattinson and Hilfenhaus frustrated India's bowlers with a stand of 43 that took the total to 240. Pattinson's unbeaten 37 was his highest first-class score, and there are sure to be better days with the bat if he retains the technique demonstrated here.
Hilfenhaus proved a worthy ally, playing one or two sparkling strokes of his own. The visitors slipped all too easily into run-saving mode against the hosts' last pair until Hilfenhaus edged Ishant Sharma into the slips. The last team to achieve a fourth-innings target of such dimensions was South Africa's 4 for 297 to beat Australia in 1953.
Resuming with a lead of 230, Hussey and Pattinson began soundly, finding gaps here and there, and occasionally stepping out to attack bowling of high calibre. Pattinson's good-morning cover drive to Umesh Yadav was the equal of anything managed by a batsman in this match.
Hussey was fortunate to go past 80, flicking at a Yadav delivery that swung down the legside and getting the merest of touches - as revealed by Hotspot. Zaheer persisted, however, and soon he found a dastardly delivery that pranced at Hussey and moved away, clipping the outside edge on the way to MS Dhoni. An outstanding ball to conclude an outstanding innings.
Pattinson leant into another consummate cover drive from Yadav, but on 15 he did not control a hook and offered up a swirling chance. Running in from fine leg but never sure of himself, Zaheer dropped it. From there each run accrued was painful for the visitors, the partnership assuming unsavoury proportions for India and making it past the drinks break. R Ashwin was introduced as Dhoni searched for the wicket, but it was ultimately collected by Ishant.
Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir began the chase carefully, Sehwag even offering a rare forward defensive blade to Hilfenhaus. But he could not contain himself totally, and Hussey was delighted to grasp a sharp chance from a sliced forcing stroke as the interval beckoned.
Gambhir's angled bat outside off stump remains a source of considerable encouragement for bowlers taking the ball across him, and Siddle completed an unhappy match for the opener soon after lunch when a snick was held neatly by Ricky Ponting.
Dravid and Tendulkar had provided the greatest resistance in the first innings, and in the second wanted to assume similar roles as Dravid dug in while Tendulkar was busy, scoring with pleasing freedom. But their union was to be split by Pattinson, who found a ripping delivery to seam between Dravid's bat and pad, and have middle stump leaning at a drunken angle. Victim of two princely deliveries, Dravid was bowled in each innings for only the fourth time in his long career.
Laxman completed a Test that returned three runs in 36 balls when he flicked heedlessly at Pattinson and presented a catch forward of square leg, Ed Cowan's first in Tests. Australians with long memories held their collective breath while the umpires checked for a possible no-ball, but Pattinson's foot had seemingly landed millimetres within the legal zone. So rarely has Laxman been dismissed so softly against Australia.
By now the Australians had inexorable momentum behind them, and Hilfenhaus pinned Virat Kohli lbw first ball. Bat, pad and ball were all in close proximity, and Kohli lingered at the wicket upon his dismissal. However replays offered precious little evidence of an edge, even if India deigned to employ the DRS that might have saved him.
Aghast at the chaos all around him, Tendulkar had been stretched by Pattinson's speed, hostility and movement. Siddle relieved his younger club and state team-mate, and first ball gained the wicket Pattinson had so strived for. As dictated by team planners, the ball was full and moving wider, Tendulkar's square drive was airy, and Hussey's hands safe. At 6 for 81, evening flights to Sydney were being booked en masse, but Dhoni and R Ashwin picked off a few runs before the interval.
Ashwin's 30 gave him a more respectable batting contribution for the match than many of the rest, but he failed to ride Siddle's bouncer, which skimmed off the wicket to produce a skier and a simple catch for Cowan moving around from short leg. Pattinson returned to the attack and became embroiled in a brief sledging match with Zaheer, the bowler striking a boundary over point and a steepling six over long on before squeezing another catch to Cowan under the helmet.
Dhoni's will to frustrate Australia ebbed away, and an unbecoming heave at Pattinson resulted in a drag onto the stumps. Ishant and Umesh Yadav resisted briefly, but Clarke called Nathan Lyon into the attack and Yadav obliged by swinging into the deep. David Warner held a smart catch to begin rich and deserved celebrations.
Story first published on: Thursday, 29 December 2011 05:55 IST