Australia v India, 2nd Test, Sydney, 4th day January 6, 2012

Australia's dominance is refreshing

The SCG's 100th Test featured a very convincing Australian side, led by a natural captain
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Domineering. There is no other word for it. Australia's innings and 68-run victory over India at the SCG was the most comprehensive mauling meted out to an opponent of note in more than two years, and the hammer blow in a series that had begun with the visitors considered favourites. How strange and distant that seems now. Michael Clarke's team are some distance from the finished article, but they will not remain so for long if performances of this completeness can be delivered on a regular basis against the teams sitting above them in the ICC's Test rankings.

Over the past year, Clarke's men had shown themselves capable of dizzy heights and depressing lows, peaking in Galle, Johannesburg and Melbourne but slipping away alarmingly in Cape Town and Hobart. They entered the Sydney Test having not won more than one match in a Test series since early 2010, a firm marker of how inconsistent their displays had been. This was acknowledged clearly by Clarke, who is part of a leadership and management axis being marked closely on results by Pat Howard, the Argus review-installed team performance manager.

But, as anyone who tried to play Shane Warne's flipper more than once can attest, foreknowledge does not necessarily make the task any easier. Awareness must be followed up with strong planning and sustained performance, something so elusive either side of the captaincy handover from Ponting to Clarke. Some level of inconsistency was to be expected, but the extremes of Clarke's first three Test series as captain could not be repeated, as that would undermine the foundations being put in place for a settled team to prosper over the remainder of the Australian summer and beyond.

Knowing this, Clarke advocated and received an unchanged team for Sydney, starting 2012 on a note of stability and reassurance for the players under him. The bowlers especially have benefited from greater cohesion and understanding of their roles, under the vigilant bowling coach Craig McDermott. It was they who set the match up for the winning with speed, swing and bounce on the first day, perforating India's batting with the full length of McDermott's preference, then boring into the tail with short-pitched relish.

So much has been said about Clarke's innings, which towers over all other individual efforts in this match. But in the context of the Test it was less important than the fact it spanned two partnerships as sturdy as granite, 288 with Ponting then an unbeaten 334 with Michael Hussey. Like the combinations provided by the bowlers, it is the runs scored in such unions, so much more than a lone hand, that define a match. Clarke could not have flown so high without Ponting and Hussey, just as James Pattinson could not have have ripped out four of the top five visiting batsmen without Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus offering support on day one.

The declaration arrived halfway through the scheduled five days, preventing Clarke from going on to greater personal glory but allowing maximum time for his team to bowl India out. Having stood in the field for more than a few long days against the twirling bats of Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, Clarke knew he may need all of the two and a half days at his disposal. He was rewarded for his decision with two wickets on day three, a tally that could have been three with a safer pair of gloves from his lieutenant Brad Haddin.

Still, Tendulkar and Laxman remained to be dislodged, and after Gautam Gambhir's belligerent 83 they crafted the foundations of what may have become a significant union. Nathan Lyon created a few half-chances and had one loud lbw appeal turned down but, bowling down-breeze, he was unable to find a way past two batsmen who have clattered many a spinner over the years. So it was left to Clarke to have a go, and soon after lunch he made the crucial breakthrough, coaxing an edge from Tendulkar as he yet again became tentative on the outskirts of his 100th international century. Haddin's gloves provided an accidental assist to help Hussey claim the catch, and the celebrations were in keeping with the significance of the moment as well as the golden touch of Clarke in this match. His field placements were adroit as ever, removing both Virender Sehwag and Gambhir with men neatly placed at point - a position so many international teams have taken to posting deep as a matter of course.

Tendulkar's wicket opened up one end to the second new ball, though it was not the new man Virat Kohli who fell first. Ben Hilfenhaus benefitted from his off-season efforts to use more of the crease, angling the ball subtly into Laxman then bending it away to flick the top of the stumps, a delivery every bit as good as the one that accounted for Rahul Dravid in the first over of day three at the MCG. Save for the resistance of R Ashwin, the rest followed meekly. It was a case of one team learning to impose itself by beating another that has seemingly become all too used to the motions of defeat.

India's present failings are wide-ranging, but their sequence of six consecutive away defeats have come against the best team in the world, England, and another that is starting to look like it might be in a position to challenge England by the time the 2013 Ashes roll by. At the head of that team, in all probability, will be Clarke, who has put his leadership beyond all doubt by completing one of the most outstanding Test matches from a leader.

This is not to say Australia are without flaws. The top order lacks experience and rhythm, Haddin's standing as a leader in the dressing-room is being weakened by flawed glovework and flighty batting, and Nathan Lyon took only one wicket for the match, albeit against gifted players of spin. Ahead lies Perth, where Ryan Harris will be a likely inclusion for a pace quartet that could do truly fearful damage to Indian minds already filled with self-doubt.

Many members of this Australian team, both players and support staff, spoke of the Boxing Day Test as the best victory they had been a part of. Low-scoring and fluctuating, it provided the exhilaration and relief of a struggle won over a higher-ranked opponent in front of an enormous crowd. A week later and those same players may have to revise that declaration. The SCG's 100th Test did not turn out to be the contest yearned for by purists, but there was plenty of satisfaction to be drawn from the sight of a domineering Australia, led by a natural captain. It has been a while.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Meety on January 8, 2012, 23:37 GMT

    @mixters - if the world revolves around India, as you seem to think so, I would say the current Oz side has the potential to do better in India than its predecessors. Why? Warner & Marsh I feel are more suspect in Oz than on lower bouncing wickets (see Warners back to back T20 100s recently?). Marsh has performed better in India than in Oz. Also MJ (when fit) would be selected for tours of India as he is quite good there.As for pedestrian spinners given Ashwin's series average is 74.50 I don't think Oz are too badly placed particularly if you consider Clarke's bowling average is 22!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • RandyOZ on January 8, 2012, 5:24 GMT

    @jonsey2 - I would've thought #1 myself, or maybe that's just the bowling attack at this stage

  • Naresh28 on January 8, 2012, 0:53 GMT

    Australia's fast bowling battery is as good as South Africa. Both are better than England. England starts playing soon so will see. All round I think Australia is ahead of England - Clarke,Hussey and Ponting were just great. In Warner Australia has a great fielder if only he can get his batting going like he does in t20 and ODI's

  • Naresh28 on January 7, 2012, 19:44 GMT

    What does the fact that if any player is out-of-form just play against India they will regain form tell you? Come-on wake up!!! Our bowlers dont look or feel as though they can do it. At least with batting we can make up for it somehow. Poor starts by the opners have played a big part. We should be playing two of three seniors in any one game - not all three. Our feilding is pathetic.

  • big_al_81 on January 7, 2012, 17:50 GMT

    I think a few people are getting a little carried away, but only a little. Australia have real hope for the future if they can keep some of their promising young bowlers fit. I think on present form they probably are about 3rd in the world after good results against SL and inconsistent performance against SA. Pakistan have done well so I think they vie for the 3rd place in my eyes. I'd put SA a clear 2nd though as they are a stronger bowling unit and far stronger batting unit, their problem as ever, is more mental than anything - that's rarely a problem for the Aussies. England over the last 2 years are the best by some distance but it'll be a challenging year ahead.

  • dummy4fb on January 7, 2012, 13:26 GMT

    india should start playing the domestic sides of the countries they visit............if by chance they succeed then they should b allowed to play against that country's international side.....................even if india had played against the sides of westren australia,victoria or new south wales the result would have been the same so they should not be allowed to play australia.......teams like bangladesh,india,srilanka and zimbabwe should only be allowed to play against the domestic sides then they should play test cricket in that country.....................one sided matches that give results in 3 or 4 days are not going to do any good for test cricket.........!!!

  • Clyde on January 7, 2012, 8:06 GMT

    I don't know about domineering, but there is nothing pleasant about the sight of a fast bowler raising even a half-self-congratulatory fist in front of the batsman, which we have seen from Australia. It is rather pathetic, if not cowardly, as if the fast bowler's prerogative of aiming the ball at the head were not enough and the ego needed more, and as if it weren't the batsman who really showed courage. An image like the one we have been presented must be critiqued, if decent young men are to be interested in fast bowling. We as spectators need to be discriminating and support sportsmanship at every turn.

  • Okakaboka on January 7, 2012, 7:50 GMT

    No...not convinced...troubled times ahead. Arthur stated tonight that other than Pattinson there would be no other changes in the Australian team because it is a 'happy' team! Good one! Arthur...Go home! If you can't see 18,000,000 unhappy people with Haddin's inclusion there is something wrong. We need a wicket keeper.... not a 'buttered fingered' individual who can't bat! What??? Do we have to barrack for Australia to lose in order to have an excuse to drop him. Inverarity...You have an excuse....Haddin is crap.....mega! And he makes us and the bowlers very unhappy!

  • andrew-schulz on January 7, 2012, 5:48 GMT

    Interesting marker. Have you ever tried to check how often India have won more than one Test in a series in their entire history? Yet most experts were ignorantly rating them number one after they won 1-0 in two away series in England and West Indies in 1970/71. I guess if you won every series 1-0 you'd be number one forever. So it's a strange measuring stick. Why don't you check how many series West Indies only won 1 Test in the eighties?

  • zenboomerang on January 7, 2012, 5:36 GMT

    How many batsmen in Test history have been 300 not out, been the captain of the team, declared & won when they could have easily gone on & made the greatest individual records of any era?... Only 1... Michael Clarke... lol... Says what Aussies think about their team mates, rather than themselves... Every other single individual achievement pales into insignificance...

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