Rebuilding Australia retain never-say-die spirit
Whatever happens on the final day of this great Test, Australia can be proud of themselves. Don't count on them feeling content with this, though.
This has been an un-Australian display in many ways, but in the refusal to give up, in the fight they have put up despite limitations, this has been so very Australian. And that is the beauty of playing Australia, that only rarely - like in Nagpur two years ago - do they make it easy for the other side to win.
In foreign conditions, with two bowlers who had never played Tests here and one who had played one, with a wobbly middle order that has allowed the Indian spinners to dictate terms, somehow Australia have either hung in or come back for the last four days to now be favourites.
Earlier Australian sides wouldn't have batted the way Shane Watson and Tim Paine did in the first innings. Even as recently as in 2008-09, Matthew Hayden was trying to hit his way out of trouble, feeling out of place as one of the pack. The difference, perhaps, was that that team was not used to struggling. This team has not only been introduced to the struggles, it seems to be enjoying the fight. And India, down to three bowlers and five batsmen in the first innings, have given them some fight, only for Australia to absorb, absorb, absorb, and then strike back at a weak moment.
On the start of the fourth morning, with all three results possible, Australia showed safety was the last thing on their minds. Watson went from monk to marauder, identifying the moment to seize and coming hard at India. All the shots he had avoided earlier, he played now: the upper-cut, the slog-sweep, the adventurous drive against the turn. A collapse followed, but two left-hand batsmen who were denied by the golden generation before them stuck around to push Australia to a defendable total.
Simon Katich and Michael Hussey began their careers almost simultaneously as kids in Perth, and started this game with the same number of caps and runs. Hussey followed Katich into the 4000-run club today, and you couldn't help but wonder how many more they would have got had they been born in some other country. Both of them have been part of - fleetingly, albeit - the days of domination too, but as scratchy accumulators. The 42 runs that came from their scratchy accumulation today will not be talked about often, but just ask India what they won't give for a 42-run stand right now?
The pièce de résistance, though, came when Australia came out to defend 215. If Virender Sehwag got off to a flier, this would have been one last Australian effort in this match. And if this was going to be the one last effort, they were going to make it grand.
The Australian bowlers might not have the skill of Zaheer Khan, but they made up for it through aggression and persistence. The wickets didn't come through a cracking pitch or a mischievous spinner, but through three pace bowlers finding energy they didn't seem to have in the first innings. Ben Hilfenhaus' pace went up dramatically, Doug Bollinger found accuracy, and Mitchell Johnson just had to do the back-up job.
"We had a bit over an hour to bowl," Hilfenhaus said later. "We knew we could come out hard. We knew we didn't have the runs on the board, and this could be the defining moment in the match."
There have been teams that have tried the short ball against Sehwag in the last two years and failed, but the Australian trio remained quick and accurate. With only two men in front of square, Bollinger kept pounding in the bouncers at around 140kmph, and hit Rahul Dravid once before getting his wicket.
Hilfenhaus was prepared to play what is not his natural game. He bowled as many bouncers and cutters as he did outswingers. He had been much better in the first innings than figures of 0 for 100 suggest. For somebody playing his first Test in the country, he has shown remarkable knowledge of Indian conditions. He has been bowling off a shorter run, preserving energy for longer spells, and has done well with the old ball that hasn't quite swung.
Against Sehwag today, two of his bouncers sailed over the keeper's head, giving away close to 4% of what Australia were defending. With a change of ends, he kept searching for the correct bouncer. It wasn't quite an unplayable delivery, and Sehwag has managed these before too, but the right amount of pressure had been created.
Similarly Hilfenhaus has promised to put Sachin Tendulkar, who has terrorised generations of Australian bowlers before him for 20 years, under the pump on the final day. Who can blame him for feeling confident? Staying consistent with the Australian way, expect Hilfenhaus and friends to make India fight for every single run.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo