Australia wrap up 15th straight win
India needed a record score to win but instead Australia edged closer to a milestone of their own, posting their 15th consecutive Test victory as they wrapped up the Boxing Day Test within four days. Australia will now head into the Sydney Test that starts on Wednesday aiming to equal their own record of 16 straight Test wins and they will no doubt fancy their chances after India folded for 161 and crashed to a 337-run defeat at the MCG.
An extra day's rest will also be much appreciated by Australia's fast bowlers, who toiled hard in searing heat against a stonewalling India. Not only did India forget how to fight, they were outplayed in subcontinent-like conditions as Melbourne's temperature nudged 40 degrees. Ricky Ponting rotated his attack and they showed few signs of exhaustion with Mitchell Johnson picking up 3 for 21 and Brett Lee and Brad Hogg each grabbing two.
India, on the other hand, struggled in the conditions. Sourav Ganguly, who was the second-last man out when he departed for 40, had been at the crease for just over an hour when he slumped on the ground after running a two. He needed attention from the team physio and batted on in the sweltering conditions, but his team-mates kept falling around him.
The end came quickly for India, who had five wickets in hand at tea but survived barely an hour after the break. MS Dhoni attempted a lavish cover-drive against Johnson and edged behind to Adam Gilchrist, who finished with eight dismissals for the match and not only passed Ian Healy's Australian Test wicketkeeping record of 395 victims but also earned $144,000 for Glenn McGrath's cancer charity - he wore pink gloves and his sponsors offered $18,000 per dismissal.
Once the established batsmen were gone and Australia could sniff a day off it all became rather a procession. Anil Kumble edged a Johnson leg-cutter behind to Gilchrist, Harbhajan Singh was run out without facing a ball and Ganguly prodded Hogg to silly mid-off. By that stage the result was no longer in doubt and perhaps India were not upset to also enjoy a free Sunday, as Johnson finished the carnage by bowling RP Singh for 2.
The finale was flatter than last season's new-year champagne after India promised so much fizz with their bowling efforts on the first day. Back then it looked like Australia might be seriously challenged for the first time in a home Test since India last visited, in 2003-04. But that spark was gradually extinguished over the next three days and India's batsmen must find some way to reverse their fortunes before the Sydney Test.
Theirs is a batting line-up full of stars but none of them shone as they chased a whopping 499 for victory. Ganguly was at least willing to attack, as was Sachin Tendulkar, but no batsman reached a half-century in their second innings. Yuvraj Singh's place might not be certain after India rejigged their batting order to retain him at No. 6. He departed for 5 shortly before tea, missing a straighter ball from Hogg that would have crashed into his stumps. Yuvraj was cleared of showing dissent at an umpire's decision in the first innings and again he waited a few moments before trudging off after Mark Benson's lbw decision.
He did not score in the first innings and should India ditch him for Sydney it might allow Virender Sehwag to open and Rahul Dravid to drop down from the unfamiliar opening position. Dravid was painfully slow in the first innings and in the second he had 16 from 114 balls when he fell lbw just before lunch, playing back to Andrew Symonds, who had just reverted from medium pace to offspin.
That defensive mindset was also present in his partner Wasim Jaffer, who was on 15 when he edged behind off Lee to give Gilchrist his record-breaking 396th dismissal. The breakthrough was a relief for Lee, who three balls earlier had experienced the same sinking feeling that Johnson and Zaheer Khan had suffered earlier in the match when he thought he had a wicket only to see Billy Bowden's no-ball signal. Lee dug in a short one that Jaffer appeared to glove through to Gilchrist but Bowden's decision, which again was correct, stifled the appeal.
After Jaffer and Dravid departed India were ticking along nicely as VVS Laxman, Tendulkar and Ganguly played some impressive strokes but none could build a match-saving partnership. Tendulkar looked terrific when he went down on one knee to square-drive Lee through point for four but he was then out-thought by Lee, who followed a quick bouncer with a good ball outside off stump that was too full to cut, luring Tendulkar into the shot which he edged behind.
Laxman had calmly worked his way to 42 when he succumbed to the frustration of Stuart Clark's tight bowling. Clark was following the team plan of suffocating India's scoring and had 0 for 15 in his 12th over when Laxman drove on the up straight to Michael Clarke at cover and Laxman was clearly annoyed by his lapse in concentration. He had been watchful in his 112-ball innings but was quickly onto any bad balls from Hogg, who dropped short more often than he would like. Laxman pulled a pair of Hogg deliveries through midwicket for boundaries and was also impressive with his straight drives.
While there were moments of satisfaction for India their overall experience, after the first day, was disheartening. When Steve Waugh's Australians set their record 16-match winning streak it was India who ended the successful run. They have three days before the Sydney Test to work out how they can prevent Ponting's men from equalling that record.
Brydon Coverdale is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo