Australia v India, 3rd Test, Perth, 4th day January 19, 2008

Smells like team spirit

One of the arresting images of the win: Harbhajan Singh charges out with the tricolour © Getty Images

One of the most arresting images from this match came a few minutes after the end. Harbhajan Singh, tricolour in hand, sprinted onto the field to join his ecstatic team-mates and quickly merged into a group jumping up and down. For a brief moment, before the support staff arrived, it was about white clothing, blue caps and a national flag.

This has always been a close-knit unit but it's obvious that defeat in Sydney, and subsequent events, brought them closer. The scorecard shows that the spoils were divided equally (there wasn't a century nor a five-wicket haul) but there was so much more to suggest a beautiful bond. Like at Nottingham last year, this was a band of musketeers rallying around each other.

Sample this for team effort: Ishant Sharma has bowled seven overs, RP Singh, ready to take over, has his cap and jumper off, Anil Kumble chats to Virender Sehwag, hears that Ishant is used to long spells in domestic cricket, Tendulkar joins in, RP too, Kumble realises Ponting is on strike, and hands the ball to Ishant. One ball later they're all back together, this time celebrating Ponting's wicket.

Wickets came at the right time, largely because the bowlers didn't waver. Rarely have three Indian fast bowlers bowled so well in partnership. Ishant stood out this morning but his effectiveness was enhanced because neither RP Singh nor Pathan gave much away opposite him. The run-rate was in control and, more importantly, the ball regularly hustled the batsman. No bowler was dominated and the fours were largely because of some outstanding batting on view.

It's tough to zero in on any one critical moment: RP Singh's ball to trap Michael Hussey was as important as Ishant's straighter one to get Ricky Ponting or Kumble's fizzer to outdo Michael Clarke, or Sehwag's beauty to nail Adam Gilchrist or even Irfan Pathan's away-goer to beat Stuart Clark. Kumble has long insisted that India possess the bowling attack to thrive on any pitch and his troops showed how swing and seam could be far more lethal than pace.

"As long as you are confident it doesn't matter what sort of surface you bowl on," said Kumble. "It's important to stick to a plan and repeat it again and again. We've played enough cricket to understand how to adjust accordingly."

Tendulkar and VVS Laxman were always on hand for advice, Rahul Dravid had a word or two to offer between overs, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, apart from his chattering behind the stumps, seemed to inform everyone about the direction of the breeze. It was fitting that the slip fielders were standing so close to each other, almost indicating the glue binding the team. When RP Singh hurried Clarke with a bouncer, striking him on the bat handle, Pathan ran in about 30 metres, from mid-on to the batsman, to urge everyone on. That was how desperate this team was to claw their way back.

Team work is tough to quantify but a few pointers help: like in recent triumphs, the tail played a big hand, the batting order put together nuggety cameos, and the training sessions were joyous and sprightly. When Tendulkar dropped Andrew Symonds in the first innings, Dhoni's reaction was instructive: he rehearsed how he could have gone for the catch, as if to say it was his. It wasn't but it was a signal that he was on hand to help.

The spirit seemed to infect even those not fully on board. India began the day with an intense session of catching practice. Gary Kirsten, the coach-in-waiting, whacked ball after ball in the air and made them practice taking skiers. "He's been positive throughout, a great help in the dressing room," Kumble said. "Having played against Australia, having played in Perth, he provided some valuable inputs. He's been exceptional."

The end was reminiscent of the Kingston triumph in 2006. Like then, two lower-order batsmen were in belligerent mode and clearing the field almost at will. Catches were dropped and runs were leaked. The bowling plan partly went awry. But the effort was never found wanting. If it was Kumble who crashed through Dwayne Bravo's defences then, it was Pathan out-doing Stuart Clark here. Like at Sabina Park, the stands at the northern end of the ground were packed with Indian supporters. Like then it was a must-win game and like then it was a side that just refused to give in.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo