Tricked in to the defensive
Throughout the series Ricky Ponting has spoken proudly and defiantly about only one team playing aggressively and wanting to win at all times. That didn't happen on Saturday when Australia, who must win to level the series, batted in the most subdued style. Ponting's team is behind 1-0 in the series, and the display almost felt like surrender.
India bowled incredibly defensively, especially in the morning, but during the first two sessions the visiting batsmen did not look for ways to break free. Forty-two runs came before lunch, when the off-side was usually crowded with eight men, but as the fields relaxed after the break and the bowlers moved their line towards the stumps only another 49 were added. It's about half the rate they usually aim for.
Only when Cameron White lifted the tempo after tea did Australia escape becoming an entrant on the top ten list for the fewest runs scored in a day's play. When the innings ended at 355, leaving India one over to bat before stumps, Australia had collected 166 in 85.4 overs. It must have been like this in the 1950s with England.
Yet the performance came from a team that batted like it was a Twenty20 on the fourth day in Mohali, and had breezed to 189 in 49 overs on the second afternoon in Nagpur. The side that knows only how to play aggressively.
Naturally, the slow progress wasn't Australia's fault. It was because India posted an 8-1 field and the bowlers directed their line well outside the off stump. It wasn't fun to watch, but it was what India needed to do.
Simon Katich, who was dismissed for 102 in the morning, was so upset by a question after play about why Australia was so defensive that he challenged the knowledge of the interrogator. "You're kidding, aren't you," Katich snapped. "We were defensive with an 8-1 field?"
Both teams were. Nothing was done to try and force changes in the field or the bowling once a couple of edges had headed towards the slips. Balls were left and left in a way that would have earned the batsmen taunts about Geoff Boycott or Chris Tavare from Australian crowds.
Katich added 10 runs in 69 balls on Saturday while Michael Hussey collected 45 in 121. Hussey performed capably and confidently during his 90, employing the method that has made him, and the situation was under control while he was there. Usually someone more attacking is at the other end and the batsmen feed off each other. On the third day things were slower than a crawl.
"Huss and I were pretty content to try and wade it out and reap the rewards later on, but it didn't happen due to both of us getting out," Katich said. "When that doesn't come off, it doesn't look great." As the wickets started to fall - they lost 4 for 37 when Katich departed - Australia did not have enough support in their platform to fulfill their aim of matching India's 441.
The amusing thing about the batting suffocation was Australia have been trying to bore India's batsmen out throughout the series by using cluttered fields with short and deep men. Indian players have called that defensive - something the attacking visitors reject - but the tourists have been unable to restrict the runs with any method.
With India's settings and immaculate discipline, they showed their opponents how to do it. With each hour the visitors' task to save the series became tougher as the walls and fielders closed in. In India's case, winning means drawing.
"It's a good strategy if you can execute it," Katich said. "If you don't get it right you can pay the price. They executed it well, that's the bottom line."
Katich maintained a popular view on tour that only one team was playing for victory. The difference is India will be happy with a stalemate, which will give them the series and regain the Border Gavaskar Trophy.
"They know they don't have to win the Test match," Katich said. "Judging by the scoring rate today we'd have to keep them to around 300 on the last day. We'll have to bowl well tomorrow and take our chances."
The last time Australia needed to win the final Test to save the series was during the draw at The Oval in 2005. Strange decisions were made in that game too, especially when a bad light offering was accepted during the first innings.
At the moment of most importance, they were unable to lift or find another answer. The current outfit looks confused and unrecognisable from Australia's previous team. Even supporters with just a little knowledge of the game knew they had been tricked into being defensive.