New Delhi: It was expected to be a tricky chase, but India's Gen Next put its hand up to fashion a remarkably commanding, series-sweeping victory at the Feroz Shah Kotla.
On another action-packed day of Test cricket, India sealed their domination of Australia in one of the most one-sided series in recent times, racing away to a six-wicket triumph with more than two days to spare, in the process completing their first 4-0 sweep in Test history.
The demons in the Kotla deck, which had threatened to increasingly, alarmingly, deteriorate with every second, were emphatically laid to rest by Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, the two young men making light of what appeared a dicey fourth-innings riposte after Australia had set India 155 for victory.
The ease and felicity with which Pujara in particular, and Kohli – paling only in comparison – negotiated the threat of Nathan Lyon, Australia's hero in the first innings when he picked up career-best figures of 7 for 94, warmed the cockles of a massive gathering which cheered every run, initially nervously and then with increasing gusto as the target was reined in with ridiculous ease. Pujara finished unbeaten on a magnificent 82, shoring up the Indian chase which came to a fruitful end when Mahendra Singh Dhoni, fittingly, slog-swept Lyon to the mid-wicket fence.
The day had begun pregnant with possibilities, India resuming on 266 for 8 in reply to Australia's 262. India's resistance lasted all of eight minutes, Lyon accounting for Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha off successive deliveries to make it a second-innings faceoff.
Without bowling as well as they ought to have, India still picked up wickets at regular intervals, this time embracing the role of unbecoming sledgers. With Ravindra Jadeja doing the bulk of the damage on his way to a maiden five-for, Australia were staring down the barrel at 94 for 7. Embracing a positive mindset, Peter Siddle counter-attacked on his way to becoming the first No. 9 in Test history to make two half-centuries in the same match, propelling Australia to 164 all out.
Siddle's resistance and crucial partnerships with Matthew Wade and James Pattinson had given Australia a glorious chance of salvaging pride with a face-saving victory. Australia came out full of beans, convinced that they had enough in the tank to work with, but they hadn't contended with the positivity and supreme confidence with which Pujara and Kohli approached the task after Murali Vijay had thrown his hand away.
Vijay, a picture of restraint and commonsense during his last four innings, attempted a low percentage reverse sweep against Glenn Maxwell, opening the bowling alongside Lyon, to allow Australia a look-in, but Pujara and Kohli shut the door on their face emphatically with a wonderful association marked by incandescent strokeplay and excellent running between the wickets. Looking none the worse for having taken a blow on his right index finger which kept him off the park throughout the Australian second innings, Pujara moved beautifully into his strokes, quick to use his feet to the spinners and smacking Mitchell Johnson for three fours in one over through a mix of innovation and orthodoxy.
Kohli, all fire and brimstone during the Australian batting, was a picture of composure and unflappability with bat in hand. There was one stunning offdrive off Maxwell, and a pull off a Lyon long hop, but that was about as much liberty as he allowed himself in the early part of his innings. He was more than happy to admire Pujara's handiwork from the best seat in the ground, and quick to egg his partner on even as he studiously ignored the Australian chatter, which visibly dissipated as the runs kept flowing at a rapid pace.
Pujara and Kohli had put on 104 in just 123 deliveries and taken the team to within 32 of the target when Kohli was trapped in front for the second consecutive day by Lyon. That triggered a mini collapse as India lost Sachin Tendulkar in similar fashion and Ajinkya Rahane to an extraordinarily poor stroke during a phase of 3 for 5 in 17 deliveries. Enter Dhoni to calm the nerves, and it was all over a few minutes thereafter.
All this, after Australia had announced their intent by sending Maxwell out to open with David Warner. The idea was obviously to take on the new ball and get Australia off to a brisk start, but those plans quickly came unstuck when Jadeja dismissed both openers in quick time, sending Warner off with a mouthful of obscenities that did him very little credit.
Like India had done the previous day, Australia too decided that attack was the best option, what with the ball jumping or shooting through, and turning prodigiously off loose areas and firm. Ed Cowan was the first too pull off aggression, using his feet nicely both in coming down the pitch or going back deep into his crease, but through Jadeja, R Ashwin and Ojha, India kept plugging away.
From 53 for 5, Australia recovered slightly through Steve Smith and Wade and their stand of 41 when, soon after lunch, Jadeja cleaned up Smith with a straighter one that the batsman didn't offer a shot to, and Johnson, bowled through the gate first ball with wickedly turning delivery. At 94 for 7, the end was in sight when Siddle assumed charge with a wonderful innings that drove India ragged.
Unafraid to dance down the track and hit in the air, Siddle first challenged, then mastered India's three-pronged spin attack. Not only was he scoring runs, but he was scoring them quickly; with each run accrued, the pressure mounted on India and Dhoni had to perform a delicate balancing act between looking for wickets and keeping an eye on the score board.
Wade and Pattinson were able allies during the Siddle show, forcing Dhoni to, finally, turn to Ishant Sharma for the first time in the 43rd over of the innings. Ishant breached Pattinson's defences in his second over and Ashwin eventually got rid of Siddle, jumping out once too often and being smartly stumped off a clever, flatter delivery well wide of off.
At that stage, it was anybody's game. Pujara, with no little help from Kohli, made sure it wasn't anybody else's but India's.
Story first published on: Sunday, 24 March 2013 10:15 IST