India v Australia, 2nd Test, Mohali, 4th day October 20, 2008

Outbatted, outbowled, outmatched

Cricinfo staff

The Australians were unable to curb the Indian batsmen's aggressive approach © AFP

It was intimidating to watch. First the openers came out to bat and the heady rhythm of strokes belted out was reminiscent of a manic Keith Moon behind his drum kit. There were 130 runs at five an over in the first session and the rate was maintained later, with 214 runs eventually plundered from 42 overs. It made no difference if it was pace or spin. The leading fast bowler was taken for 72 from his 14 overs, and the spinners were carted for 54 from nine. It would have been exhilarating to watch in a one-day game. As part of a five-day spectacle, it was almost unprecedented.

Who else could we talking about but Australia? For more than a decade, while other sides talked of "brave cricket" and then lost their nerve, Australia flattened opponents home and away as a matter of routine. Batsmen came out and walloped 18 runs in the opening over of a series, bowlers thudded deliveries into stumps, helmets and knuckles, and even geriatric stalwarts with avian nicknames threw themselves full-length in the Adelaide outfield to take catches that beggared belief.

On Monday morning though, the other side came out swinging and Australia were left bereft of answers. Back in 2001, the juggernaut that had crushed everything in its path for 16 games came to a shuddering halt when India refused to be cowed at Eden Gardens despite the hopeless situation that they found themselves in at the end of day three. By the time the teams reached Chennai for the deciding Test, the aura had gone, and India calmly picked off 510 in response to Australia's 391 to set up a series win.

Since the Ashes were surrendered to an English side that dared to set the tone on an astonishing opening day at Edgbaston, Australia have seldom been challenged. The one time they looked most ill at ease was in Perth last January, when an Indian team seething after the perceived injustices of Sydney pulled off a stunning win at the WACA. Again, someone had wrenched the conducting baton out of Australian hands, and the big boys couldn't play.

His critics can say all that they want to about Mahendra Singh Dhoni being a lucky captain. The toss certainly played a part here, but as his powerful batting displays - such a contrast from the imposter who scratched around at the Chinnaswamy Stadium - have shown, he seems to thrive on the added responsibility. In the first innings, his 92 was the difference between a modest total and an imposing one, and on the fourth morning he decided to trust his shot-making ability after Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir had pillaged 182.

Ricky Ponting got the kind of ball from Ishant Sharma that makes batsmen wake up in a cold sweat © Getty Images

With the famed middle order looking on, it was a move that would have attracted considerable ridicule if it backfired. Instead, Dhoni thumped 68 from 84 balls, including a six off Cameron White that came to a rest 25 yards inside the field after cannoning into the sightscreen. He made sure India didn't overdo it either. With runs coming so easily, the batsmen must have been queuing up, but the declaration came well before tea, leaving India with 136 overs to ensure that their dominance of the game was translated into the right result.

Australia's chase was in ruins within 10.2 overs. There had been signs in the morning that they were losing the plot. There was an animated argument between Ricky Ponting and Brett Lee before lunch, presumably something to do with the fact that the leader of the pace pack wasn't required to bowl until after everyone has finished their roti and butter chicken. And that simmering rage seemed to afflict the batting as well.

Matthew Hayden has never been known for the backward step, but even by his standards, the belligerence shown during a 20-ball 29 was extraordinary. It was as if he wanted to hit every delivery into the cement moat that rings the venue. And it was a reflection of the kind of series that he's having that he fell to the sweep, the stroke that fetched him hundreds of runs back in 2001.

Simon Katich fell to a frankly appalling stroke, while Ricky Ponting got the kind of ball that makes batsmen wake up in a cold sweat. That, and the delivery which darted back to trap Shane Watson in front, crowned a magnificent spell from Ishant Sharma, who must surely now be considered one of the best fast bowlers in the world. India's pace bowlers now have 18 wickets in the series, while it needed a miscue from Sourav Ganguly to gift Lee his fourth of the series. The times, they certainly are a changin'.