Hyderabad: The famed Australian stomach for battle was nowhere in evidence at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium on Tuesday (March 5).
Despite being behind the eight-ball after three days of largely one-sided action in the second Test, Australia had still been expected to make a genuine fist of it in admittedly trying conditions. Instead, in an uncharacteristically listless display of batting, they keeled over on the fourth morning, succumbing to an embarrassing innings-and-135-run loss that allowed India to open up an insurmountable 2-0 advantage in the four-Test series.
One of the great traits of Australian cricket has been the tendency of the national team to engage in a scrap, making the opposition work hard for success. That was conspicuously absent this time around, and India won as they pleased with a day and two sessions to spare after bowling Australia out for 131.
When Australia began day four on 74 for 2, still requiring 192 to stave off an innings defeat, some would have assumed it was only a question of when rather than whether, but not even the Indians would have bargained for the swiftness with which the fight went out of their opponents. Spin was expected to be the weapon with which India would tease and torment Australia into surrender and so it turned out. Ravindra Jadeja did most of the initial damage and R Ashwin cutting a swathe through the lower order.
Jadeja's greatest strength, apart from speed through the air, is his accuracy, and that was precisely what stood him in good stead on a surface offering plenty of help to the spinners. Without attempting anything fancy, he kept plugging away, and produced the ball of the match to dismiss Michael Clarke, the one batsman in the Australian line-up capable of batting long against quality spin.
Clarke has defied India almost single-handedly on every occasion in this series. It would have to be a special delivery to evict him early, and it was. Jadeja got one to drift in beautifully, and break away sharply on pitching. Clarke did nothing wrong in defence, playing close to his body with the straightest of bats, but the ball ripped past the outside edge and disturbed off stump, effectively sounding Australia's death knell. It was a steady procession after that with Jadeja at the forefront and Ashwin wheeling away.
The day had begun with the promise of another gripping day's play, even if the dice was heavily loaded in India's favour. Mahendra Singh Dhoni opted to begin proceedings with Ishant Sharma, unused during the 32 overs sent down the previous evening, and Jadeja. Ishant was excellent, giving nothing away and keeping Ed Cowan and Shane Watson honest; a wicket strangled down the leg side might not have been in his plans, but that's precisely how he dismissed Watson in the day's third over, Dhoni taking a smart catch diving full tilt to his left.
That brought Clarke out to join Cowan, never at ease but showing the kind of application and commitment that Australia required. Clarke shimmied down and drove Jadeja over long-off for a giant six, while Cowan was quick to pounce on anything slightly short as he rocked bat and cut fiercely behind and in front of point.
The two had added 33 and looked to have got their eye in - as much as that was possible on this surface - when Jadeja ripped the heart out of the Australian effort with that dream delivery to Clarke. Clarke trudged off with a look of complete disbelief, repeatedly shaking his head in shock even as the Indians celebrated uninhibitedly, buoyed by the conviction that with the big fish in the bag, it was now a matter of routine business.
From 108 for 3, Australia imploded sensationally, finding strange and bizarre ways of getting out as they lost their last seven wickets for just 23 runs. Cowan's patient vigil, which lasted nearly three hours, ended when an intended cut flew to slip off Dhoni's pad. As if that wasn't bad enough, five deliveres later, Matthew Wade left Moises Henriques for dead, calling him through for a needless single as he poked Ashwin into the covers. Jadeja swooped on the ball and, despite a fumble, rocketed a throw that shattered the stumps at the striker's end, leaving Henriques short of his ground and Australia in tatters.
Having seen Jadeja walk away with the wickets, Ashwin decided it was time to have some fun of his own. Glenn Maxwell, himself an offspinner of sorts, had simply no clue against the carrom ball - used sparingly - that broke away sharply on pitching and struck him low on the back leg, bang in front of middle stump. After Peter Siddle was smartly caught by Virat Kohli to his left at second slip through the Jadeja-outside edge-Dhoni's-pad route, Ashwin produced another snorter to send Wade packing and push Australia to the brink of disaster.
James Pattinson and Xavier Doherty defended stubbornly for 53 deliveries before Ashwin ended the resistance just after the scheduled lunch break, trapping Pattinson in front for his fifth wicket of the innings. Driven to their knees, Australia will have to find ways to tackle the spin conundrum ahead of the third Test in Mohali, which begins on March 14. If they don't, this could turn out to be one chastening tour for the one-time champions of the world.