India v Australia, 2nd Test, Chennai, 1st day October 14, 2004

Another Chennai Test, another Australian collapse

Steve Waugh: had a hand in allowing India back into the Chennai Test three years ago © Getty Images

Another Chennai Test, another Australia collapse. Those who were here three years ago could tell you that it wasn't Harbhajan Singh's 15 wickets or Sachin Tendulkar's century that won India the series. No, it was Steve Waugh's hand. When the man renowned for his steely temperament decided to play catch with a Harbhajan delivery that was spinning back towards the stumps, Australia were 340 for 3, and on course to give India a hiding to end all hidings. Matthew Hayden was at his intimidating best at the other end, and Waugh himself had seldom been troubled during his innings.

But that momentary lapse of reason left the door ajar for Harbhajan, and a little over an hour later, Australia had subsided to 391 all out. The world champions don't do anything by halves, and when they lose the plot, it can make the average B-grade Bollywood pot-boiler look coherent. At Kolkata a week earlier, with VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid having played the innings of their lives, Australia were handily placed to salvage a draw on the final day, going to tea at 161 for 3, with the Hayden-Waugh combination occupying the crease.

But once Waugh was caught in the close-in cordon by Hemang Badani, the last seven batsmen were loathe to make the scorers work unduly hard, adding only 46 more before subsiding to 212 all out. This penchant for stunning collapses hasn't been restricted to matches in India either. In the series opener at Brisbane last year, Australia went from 268 for 2 to 323 all out. And in the Adelaide match, where they lost despite piling up an imposing 556 in the first innings, the last five second-innings wickets added just 13.

Of course, only a foolish punter would write off Australia's chances here. In Sri Lanka a few months ago, they conceded first-innings leads of 161 and 91 in the first two Tests, storming back to win both despite a certain Muttiah Muralitharan being in opposition. But the stumble from 189 for 2 to 235 today certainly gives India hope. Like the boxer who strives incessantly for a knockout despite being way ahead of points, Australia remain suspect to the sucker punch, and Anil Kumble's haymaker certainly laid them out cold.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.