This was supposed to be India's best chance to win a Test series in Australia. It has taken only eight days of cricket for Michael Clarke's men to deny them that goal. On the fourth afternoon in Sydney, an attack led by Ben Hilfenhaus deconstructed India's formidable batting line-up, bit by bit, to secure an unbeatable 2-0 series lead with victory by an innings and 68 runs, Australia's first innings win over India in 12 years.
The last such result also came at the SCG, in 2000. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were all part of that side, as they were members of the outfit that lost this time around. It is unlikely they will have another chance to beat Australia at home. For now, India still hold the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, and should they win in Perth and Adelaide they will retain it. But their grip on it is as weak as Chris Martin's forward defence.
This was an Australian victory that will be remembered for Clarke's unbeaten 329. But on the fourth day, it was a second consecutive five-wicket haul from Hilfenhaus that was the highlight. Hilfenhaus completed the success with the final wicket when R Ashwin, who had made a fighting 62, skied a pull and was caught by Nathan Lyon running around from mid-on.
The Australians were overjoyed. Clarke especially was thrilled. His declaration on the third day, when he could have chased personal milestones like Brian Lara's world-record Test innings of 400, was designed to ensure Australia would win the match. They did so with three and a half sessions remaining. Clarke is not the kind of man to harbour any regrets. The win was everything.
He knew better than anyone that batting on the SCG surface was not particularly difficult, and as Tendulkar and Laxman put on a 103-run stand his mind might have flicked back eight years, to a 353-run partnership between the same men at the same ground eight years ago. Fittingly, it was Clarke with his left-arm spin who ended the partnership, and India's hopes of saving the Test.
Tendulkar had reached 80 and seemed to be on track to register his long-awaited hundredth international hundred in the SCG's hundredth Test when Clarke changed the course of the day. He produced a delivery that was accurate enough to draw Tendulkar into a stroke and turned just enough to catch the edge, which ricocheted off Brad Haddin's gloves and was snaffled by Michael Hussey at slip.
When the new ball arrived, the other architect of that one threatening partnership, Laxman, on 66, fell to a near-perfect delivery from Hilfenhaus, who finished with 5 for 106. The ball angled in and then nipped away to beat the outside edge of Laxman's bat, clipping the edge of the top of off stump, and the batsman could scarcely believe his fate, confident as he appeared that he had covered his wicket.
From there, the wickets fell steady. MS Dhoni (2) chipped a return catch to Hilfenhaus, who seemed to think it was a bump ball, but the umpire's decision to have the third official check on the shot revealed that it had lobbed cleanly back to Hilfenhaus without touching the ground, surprising some of the Australians.
Virat Kohli was lbw to James Pattinson for 9, a fraction unlucky as the ball kept low, but there was no question over the decision. Peter Siddle joined in by removing Zaheer Khan, who had made an entertaining 35 when he slashed hard at a delivery outside off and was taken by Shaun Marsh running back from extra cover.
Briefly, Ishant Sharma and Ashwin staved off the Australians with a 42-run stand, but Ishant (11) was lbw to the offspin of Nathan Lyon. That was the only breakthrough of the match for Lyon, who also collected just one in Melbourne and has not removed a top-six batsman since the first Test of the summer, against New Zealand at the Gabba. Though usually loath to change a winning side, Australia might consider replacing him with Ryan Harris at the WACA.
There are far more questions for India. For a while on the fourth day, it looked like they might make Australia take the match into the fifth day as they worked through the first session for the loss of only one wicket, that of Gautam Gambhir. He missed the chance for his first Test century in nearly two years when on 83, he stood on the crease and reached his bat a long way forward to the bowling of Siddle, who found a leading edge that was snapped up by David Warner at point.
Tendulkar and Laxman continued to fight. Laxman played some of his trademark wristy flicks through the leg side, against the fast men and also the offspin of Lyon, and Tendulkar showed off some wonderful cover-drives early in the morning and shortly before the lunch break upper-cut a frustrated Pattinson over the sole slip for another boundary.
But it was all a big tease for the Indian fans. In a match where three Australians made tons, including one triple-hundred, India needed more than a handful of pretty half-centuries. There are questions over their batting and their bowling as the Perth Test approaches. They have a week to sort out their problems.