India v Australia, 3rd Test, Mohali, 5th day March 18, 2013

Australia left to find dignified departure

The Border-Gavaskar trophy may be lost but Australia have one more game to regain some pride. But that will be easier said than done

In the United States, lame-duck presidents must remain in office for two months before their successors are sworn in. They hold the title in name only until the scheduled handover at inauguration day. The Australians must have felt a bit like that ever since MS Dhoni destroyed them with his double-century last month. Technically, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was theirs until the final afternoon in Mohali but a change of hands was inevitable. The only question was how long it would take. The answer was 13 days of cricket.

For the first two days of the series the Australians were right in the contest but they soon lost sight of the trophy in the Chennai dust. They never really saw it again. In that first Test it was Dhoni who demoralised them, in Hyderabad it was Cheteshwar Pujara and M Vijay in a 370-run partnership and in Mohali it was Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, who compiled 289 together. There were other factors, of course, but these were the decisive elements in India's triumph, the antidote to their 4-0 humiliation in Australia in 2011-12.

And now, a similarly embarrassing scoreline looms for Michael Clarke's Australians. Should they lose in Delhi, on what is expected to be a raging turner, it will be only the second time a team has swept all four Tests in a series against Australia. The first was in 1969-70, when the awful result in South Africa cost Bill Lawry the captaincy. There will be no such bloodshed this time; Clarke has done what he could with limited resources. But that doesn't make the outcome any less painful for the players.

At least there were some encouraging signs in Mohali. Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle found swing and toiled manfully, Phillip Hughes broke through his spin barrier on the fourth day, Ed Cowan played another long, patient innings and Steven Smith showed that Clarke is not the only classy player of spin in the squad. But again Australia were clearly outplayed by India and the late finish on the fifth afternoon must be viewed in context: the entire first day was washed out.

Australia nearly escaped with a draw but they would have been lucky to do so. Dhoni's defensive batting as the target inched closer might have added some tension for the viewers, but there was always the sense he could end it any time he wanted. Three consecutive boundaries confirmed that. Just when Australia got their hopes up, Dhoni reminded them that India were in complete control. It has been that way all through the series.

A greater second-innings effort would have improved Australia's chances of securing a draw but not for the first time their top order was shown up by the tail.

A greater second-innings effort would have improved Australia's chances but not for the first time their top order was shown up by the tail. In their second innings in Chennai, the last-wicket stand of 66 between Nathan Lyon and Moises Henriques was easily the best of the innings. Here again the lower order fought and it was unsatisfactory that the ninth- and tenth-wicket partnerships - 36 between Starc and Brad Haddin and 44 from Starc and Xavier Doherty - were the best of the innings.

Falling to outstanding bowling is one thing, but the way David Warner flashed and edged behind in the first over was reckless. Henriques also frittered away his wicket with an uppish drive off Ravindra Jadeja. It was a wonderful return catch that got Henriques but a tame shot to offer the chance. Henriques started the series brilliantly in Chennai but since then has scored 5, 0, 0 and 2, and taken 1 for 107. His Chennai credits will last only so long and he might find himself making way for Glenn Maxwell on the spinning Delhi pitch.

There are all sorts of selection questions and possible permutations to be considered over the next three days. Clarke's back injury is central to the make-up of the side, for if he is ruled out it will likely mean a straight swap for Shane Watson, who flew out of Australia on Tuesday to rejoin the squad. The success of Hughes and Smith in Mohali will probably mean Usman Khawaja remains on the sidelines. If Clarke does play, someone else will be squeezed out to accommodate Watson - likely to be Hughes or Smith.

Matthew Wade was put through some wicketkeeping drills on the field during lunch on the final day in Mohali and could take the gloves back from Haddin after missing the Test due to his sprained ankle. James Pattinson will return after his enforced one-match lay-off and will likely share the bowling duties with Starc, Siddle and either Lyon or Doherty. But whatever XI Australia assemble, they will have their work cut out to avoid a whitewash.

They showed admirable fight on the last day in Mohali and while the result was closer than the first two Tests, there is much still to work on. The trophy is gone but one match remains for the Australians - under either Clarke or Watson - to regain some pride. That will be easier said than done.

India's average first-innings score in this series is 524; Australia's is 341. India's partnerships average 48.88; Australia's average is 27.45. It is obvious to anyone who has watched the three Tests that India have comprehensively outplayed Australia with bat and ball, but the sheer disparity in those numbers is startling all the same. There is no need for a recount. The best these lame ducks can hope for now is a dignified departure.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here