At Adelaide, December 9-13, 2014. Australia won by 48 runs. Toss: Australia. Test debut: K. V. Sharma.
It began as Phillip Hughes's match, and ended as Nathan Lyon's, though Warner, Clarke, Smith and Kohli all made claims for ownership of a thrilling, inspiring, moving Test. Clarke described it as the most important of his career, which he jeopardised by playing through three different injuries. "No regrets," he said, a phrase also used by his counterpart, the first-time Test captain Kohli, whose relentless pursuit of India's victory target earned him an army of new admirers, despite his team's careless collapse on the final afternoon.
In the immediate aftermath of Hughes's death, it had been unclear how or when elite cricket would reconvene. The Adelaide Oval - refurbished, but retaining its old-world class and charm - provided the perfect setting for this rescheduled curtain-raiser. The event was marinated in emotion, the build-up excruciatingly compelling and the pre-match rituals electrifying. The players assembled in front of a giant 408 (Hughes had been the 408th player to win a Test cap for Australia) painted on the outfield. Bats leaned against a hoarding with Baggy Green caps hanging from the handles. Sixty-three seconds of applause led into a video tribute voiced by Richie Benaud. Then came the anthems; Warner later admitted they were an irresistible emotional trigger.
His batting bristled even more than usual, as he channelled his grief at the loss of his "little mate" into a sizzling 145 off 163 balls. A glance to the heavens greeted each milestone, including 63, the new addition to cricket's numerological family, which prompted a spontaneous ovation. Warner had also been the recipient of the Test's first bouncer, from its 19th ball, and it proved curiously uplifting. As he swayed out of the way of Aaron's offering, the crowd gasped - then cheered and applauded, as if for a century. It was a different matter on the third morning when, facing his first delivery, Kohli ducked into a short one from Johnson, and was hit on the badge of his helmet. Kohli appeared unfazed, but concern arrived from all quarters. Johnson looked shaken as he returned to his mark.
The first day was Australia's, until the late drama of three wickets in five overs, following the disturbing sight of Clarke retiring hurt on 60. He had aggravated his long standing back injury and a pre-existing hamstring problem, so there seemed no prospect of him resuming his innings. Yet he did just that the following morning, with Australia 354 for six. His seventh-wicket partnership of 163 with Smith on a rain-affected second day limited to 30 overs, seemed to break India's resolve.
Smith's growing maturity brought him the highest of his five Test centuries. Having reached three figures, he launched himself into Twenty20 mode with a series of outrageous stand-and-deliver shots through the off side. He should have been stumped by Saha, deputising for the injured M. S. Dhoni, on 131, and was dropped three times before Australia declared on 517 for seven. One particularly fierce straight-drive fizzed past a ducking umpire, Ian Gould. Smith's face contorted into a wide-mouthed grimace, like a child who had just kicked a football through a neighbour's window. Health and safety hadn't gone mad: it was just in everyone's minds.
Improbably, Clarke reached a seventh hundred at Adelaide, more than anyone. It was the first time in an Australian Test innings that three batsmen from the same domestic team (New South Wales - Hughes's home state) had made centuries. Clarke also became the first Australian to make a Test hundred after retiring hurt, a footnote that underlined the remarkable physical and mental resilience he had shown over the previous fortnight.
On an easy-paced drop-in pitch it was off-spinner Lyon, once a member of the Adelaide Oval groundstaff, who chipped away. Bowling more of an off-stump line than usual, he exploited the footmarks created by Johnson and India's right-arm seamers, who had occasionally gone round the wicket. Kohli, meanwhile, was rekindling his love affair with the place. After a century on his previous visit, in 2011-12, he was at it again, taking a shine to Johnson late on the third afternoon. Johnson, though, had the last laugh. Returning to the attack five overs before stumps, he tucked Kohli up with a short ball that was dispatched to Harris, running in from fine leg. At 369 for five, India had ceded the initiative, and Lyon finished off the innings on the fourth morning to give Australia a lead of 73, and complete only his second five-wicket haul in home Tests; he would soon make it three (in 14 Tests against India, Shane Warne had managed only one).
Just before tea on the fourth day, the post-Hughes entente cordiale was broken.Warner was bowled by Aaron for 66, but recalled when replays revealed a no-ball. On his return to the crease Warner mocked Aaron's reaction, three times shouting "C'mon!" in his direction; India were infuriated, and Aaron, Kohli and Dhawan all got involved. Warner continued to ride his luck. He might have been given out caught behind down the leg side off Aaron on 70, and was dropped by Vijay in the gully off Mohammed Shami on 89. But he completed his second hundred of the game, to reprise his feat at Cape Town in March; it was his sixth Test century of the year and, in the third innings of a match, the fifth in his last seven.
Adelaide holds its breath: Virat Kohli takes Mitchell Johnson's bouncer on his helmet. Australia opted to bat on until stumps, and 290 for five. The declaration came overnight, leaving India to score 364 in 98 overs at the lowest rate of the match. On only two occasions had a Test side declared twice and lost (excluding the leather jacket Test at Centurion in 1999-2000). The early loss of Dhawan, given out by Gould caught behind off his shoulder, suggested this was not likely to be a fourth.
But Vijay and Kohli saw off the quicks, and Lyon, who had received a morning pep talk from Warne, grew frustrated; just before tea, Mitchell Marsh dropped a hard left-handed chance at short cover with Vijay on 85. At the break India needed 159 with eight wickets left; and Clarke was now out of the game, having torn his right hamstring in the field. The breakthrough came eight overs after tea, when a big off-break from Lyon trapped Vijay, on 99, squarely in front. Rahane went five balls later caught - off pad only - at short leg. The tide was turning, but Kohli was more like Cnut. Having brought up his hundred just before the two wickets, he stroked Harris for a sumptuous four, and pushed Johnson through the off side: 92 needed, six wickets left.
Rohit Sharma went quickly, and then came a bizarre few minutes in which India lost their heads - and effectively the match. Saha followed Kohli's lead, smashing Lyon for six and four, only to be bowled on the charge. Lyon had ten wickets in a Test for the first time, looked to the cloudless Adelaide sky, and patted the No. 408 on his shirt. Kohli kept going, sweeping Lyon for another boundary. But, next ball, on 141, he tried the shot again - and picked out Marsh on the midwicket fence. India were now 304 for seven: victory was no longer possible, and Kohli knew it. He hung his head, remained crestfallen for a good 30 seconds, then left to a reception as warm as any Australian would have received.
His aggregate of 256 runs was the most by a first-time Test captain. More than 16 overs remained, and India might still have emerged with a draw, but
Kohli's enthusiasm had proved infectious. Shami was caught on the slog at mid-off, Johnson trapped Aaron, and Lyon claimed the final wicket - Ishant Sharma, stumped. At one stage, Lyon had figures of one for 116, but finished with seven for 152, and became the first Australian off-spinner to take 12 in a home Test. He was engulfed by team-mates; the largest fifth-day crowd at Adelaide (24,836) since Bodyline were with them in spirit.
And what a spirit it was - adventure, respect and enjoyment. "This is what we play cricket for," said Kohli.
Man of the Match: N. M. Lyon.