The last step to greatness
Years from now, the enduring image of this Test series might be that of Michael Clarke prancing down the pitch to smack Anil Kumble over his head with a full flourish of the bat. Clarke's cheeky exuberance and confidence was one of the X-factors that India just couldn't cope with in a contest that never quite lived up to its exalted billing.
Before the series started, most reckoned that Matthew Hayden, imperious in 2001 when he made 549 runs, and Darren Lehmann - who batted with considerable skill and panache on turning tracks in Sri Lanka - would plot the maps to lead Australia out of a 35-year-long wilderness in India. And when you look at the series averages and see just 376 runs between them, you'd be forgiven for thinking that India had won at a canter.
But India's bowlers weren't prepared for the unexpected, and it showed as Clarke, Damien Martyn - two fabulous hundreds and a superb 97, with most of the runs coming from precise back-foot play - and Simon Katich managed 1120 runs in the middle order. The soft underbelly of 2001 had metamorphosed into a taut six-pack capable of absorbing India's hardest blows, and Adam Gilchrist's tally of 218, compiled at breakneck speed, was an added bonus.
India's much-lauded line-up had a meltdown by comparison, with only Virender Sehwag (299) managing more than 200 runs. If the meagre figures were depressing, the inability to take the battle to the opposition was even more so. Except for Sehwag's incident-packed 155 in Chennai, and two little gems from VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar in Mumbai, there was not one innings that drove Australia to despair.
Poor form was a factor, but so was an Australian gameplan based more on the anaconda-like squeeze than the cobra bite. Knowing that India's batsmen weren't the most adept at picking off singles and twos, they blocked off the boundaries and waited for frustration to set in. With the pressure relentless, even batsmen of the quality of Rahul Dravid and Laxman were forced into indiscretions.
Australia's success also had much to do with a refusal to allow hype to cloud team selection. Brett Lee might have been the apple of teenage-girls and corporate eyes, but he could never displace the more utilitarian Michael Kasprowicz from the XI. The record books might say that he got only nine wickets at 28.33 apiece, but Kasprowicz was magnificent as the tourniquet, finishing with an economy-rate superior to Scrooge McGrath.
McGrath and Shane Warne did their reputations no harm with solid performances, but both were comfortably eclipsed by Jason Gillespie, whose ferocity and nous in trying conditions fetched him the rewards that he had gone without while bowling with similar verve three years ago. If Australia can keep that trio fit and motivated for next season, England's Ashes dreams will surely be shelved for another two summers.
For India, intensive introspection beckons. Parthiv Patel was persisted with long after his confidence was shot to pieces, and his mistakes - and there were too many to count - became a convenient focal point for critics who overlooked the team's overall frailty. Zaheer Khan bowled beautifully in patches, but the back-up for Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, who harvested an astonishing 48 wickets between them, was often woeful during the first two Tests.
Murali Kartik's addition added an extra dimension, and asked several uncomfortable questions of those who have steadfastly refused to see him as an option even in home Tests. Dravid handled him beautifully, and his match-winning spell in Mumbai - make no mistake, the wickets of Ricky Ponting and Martyn won India the game - suggested that he and Harbhajan can form a formidable partnership after Kumble retires.
Despite their weak-kneed capitulation on a pitch of dubious quality at Mumbai, these Australians deserve their place in cricket's pantheon. They have now accomplished all that can be expected of a great side, home and away, and this triumph was achieved largely without the whinging and petulance that once characterised their visits to this part of the world.
Having been outclassed by the best in the business, India now look ahead to far less daunting challenges, against South Africa, Bangladesh and Pakistan. But unless they can shed light on the areas of darkness that ruined this campaign, lasting greatness - Australia's domain - will continue to elude them.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.