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October 13, 2010
In Mohali, the width of a stump - the one Steven Smith had a shy at and missed - separated Australia from a famous victory. In Bangalore, in front of a passionate crowd that was worth at least half a man to the home side, there was no Heartbreak Hotel room to check into. This was a comprehensive defeat, the manner of it all the more galling after Australia had matched India for three days and more.
"It's probably a little bit harsh, isn't it?" said Ricky Ponting, when asked about the 2-0 scoreline. "We played very well for the majority of the first Test, and pretty well for the majority of this one. It just goes to show that unless you play five good days of Test cricket - and that's five, not four or four-and-a-half - you don't win games.
"The first Test was a great example of that. Even this Test here ... our inability to break the M Vijay-Sachin Tendulkar partnership on day three was crucial to the outcome of this game. There was also our inability to bat for three sessions in the second innings of a Test match. We needed to bat for one hour longer to put India under some pressure. Then it would have been a really good game of cricket."
Ponting, who has now lost two series as captain in both India and England, fought valiantly for the series-levelling win on the fourth evening, but a classy innings of 72 was cut short when Zaheer Khan once again exhibited his mastery of reverse-swing. "I was really disappointed and down last night to get out when I did," said Ponting. "I probably played as well yesterday as I ever have in Indian conditions. I did it for three quarters of the day but didn't get across the line. When you get those starts, you have to capitalise."
Little went right for him when India batted. Virender Sehwag's poor run in the fourth innings of matches continued, but India found a new hero in Cheteshwar Pujara, who stroked the ball with tremendous fluency and showed great poise on his way to 72 on debut.
"I was hoping we'd take some early wickets and I was hoping we'd get Sehwag out early, which we did," said Ponting. "We knew Sachin was going to be a big wicket for us. I guess the Pujara-Vijay partnership put us a bit behind the eight-ball. They scored at nearly a run a ball and had the momentum going their way. That's what I spoke to the boys about at lunch. It was about stemming the momentum and slowing the scoreboard down. We got one wicket, but we weren't good enough to maintain it through the course of the day."
He admitted that Australia were a little surprised to see Pujara stride out in the No. 3 position that Dravid has occupied for so long. "I'm not sure what the reasoning was behind it," he said. "I'm sure you'll hear from MS [Dhoni] later on. I imagine it was something to do with him being fresh and not doing much batting in the first innings. I also had a look at Dravid's record in Bangalore, and it's not great. Maybe they were trying to be pro-active and send someone out that was willing to keep the scoreboard ticking over at a faster rate, rather than someone who was under a little bit of pressure."
Having nearly made a hash of a similar run-chase in Mohali, India went about things rather differently on this fifth-day pitch, with Pujara's belligerence the best example of a refusal to get even slightly bogged down. "They seemed to have a bit more intent," said Ponting. "We were able to get four wickets late that night [in Mohali]. It was a tough little period for them to bat.
"That's the sort of start we needed to have today. It seemed their approach was a bit different. Even Pujara, playing the way he did, showed great intent. He showed he was willing to take a few risks to try and get the momentum going India's way, and it paid off for him today."
And while there was a lot of criticism of his own tactics, especially the fields set when Nathan Hauritz came on, Ponting admitted that any dreams of parity pretty much disappeared with his frontline spinner conceding 76 in just 12 overs. "Nathan's disappointed with the way he's bowled this game," he said. "Saying that, I thought even our guys yesterday handled the Indian spinners well. It was the reverse-swinging ball late in the day that got them two wickets. There's no doubt that we have some work to do, on how we bat against reverse-swing bowling and also how we deliver it when we've got the ball. Zaheer and Sreesanth, again today, have done that a lot better than us this series."
India now haven't lost a Test series since Sri Lanka in 2008, but Ponting suggested that any ambitions of replicating the sort of dominance that West Indies and Australia enjoyed for so long would depend entirely on how well they dealt with the changing of the guard. "What I know about the Indian team at the moment is that all their batsmen are very experienced, bar Suresh Raina. When VVS Laxman comes back in, one of Vijay or Pujara's going to have to go back out.
"The greatest challenge they'll have is how they maintain the standards they've set over the last couple of years when some of those guys start to move on. That's been the biggest challenge for Australian cricket over the last three or four years. When those very experienced and very good players move on, how long does it take for the next crop of young guys to stand up and start playing the way those players did in winning games for their country? It'll be interesting to see how India cope with that."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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