Australia conquer the final frontier
Australia recorded a magnificent 342-run win and wrapped up the series, their first in India for 35 years
Australia 398 (Martyn 114, Clarke 91) and 5 for 329 dec (Katich 99, Martyn 97) beat India 185 and 200 (Sehwag 58) by 342 runs and lead the four-match series 2-0
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
When Australia began their twin series against South Africa in 2001-02, it was billed as a world championship, a battle between the top two teams in the world. In the event, Australia demolished their opponents, not only on the field of play, but psychologically. Careers tottered, and South Africa were never the same side again. A similar process reached a significant milestone at Nagpur, as Australia beat India in the third Test by a massive 342 runs, to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series. Not only were Indian players outplayed, but their spirits were shattered, as all their gains of the last three years looked set to come undone. It was a great win by one of the greatest sides of all time, and they made it look easy.
When India came out to bat, 542 behind, they looked a parody of the side that had fought so hard against Australia during their last tour there, like body doubles accidentally finding themselves in the thick of the action. Their footwork was uncertain, their strokeplay was tentative, and they appeared out of their depth. The diffidence they have gained from the travails of this season was to blame for that, but so was the remarkable bowling they faced.
Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie bowled lethal spells, enjoying the pace and bounce of the pitch, and the sideways movement they could generate from it. McGrath lurked in the corridor, getting the occasional ball to snort up viciously from a length to surprise even the wicketkeeper. Gillespie was equally hard to face, with his incoming ball holding possibilities of gaining an lbw or a bowled dismissal, and his straighter one keeping four slips interested.
One by one the Indians succumbed. Aakash Chopra played down the wrong line to Gillespie and was bowled (1 for 1), after which Rahul Dravid edged a Gillespie incutter onto his stumps (2 for 9). Sachin Tendulkar was beaten by the bounce of a ball of a McGrath special in the corridor, with the ball going off the splice into the hands of a diving Damien Martyn at point (3 for 20). VVS Laxman meekly pulled Michael Kasprowicz's first ball straight to McGrath at fine leg (4 for 29). Mohammad Kaif then unleashed an expansive drive at a good-length ball from Kasprowicz, and only managed to edge it behind to Adam Gilchrist, who leaped to his right and took an athletic catch (5 for 37).
Virender Sehwag, on the other hand, was his usual strokeful self, batting with such abandon that you'd have thought it was nets at Najafgarh. With a lusty eye for the loose ball, he played some delightful drives and cuts, and refused to be daunted when he played and missed, or when he was dropped. His first reprieve came early in his innings, when Justin Langer dropped an edge at third slip off McGrath's bowling, and an uppish cut a ball later eluded the outstretched hands of the man at gully. But no-one supported him until Parthiv Patel came to the crease.
Patel, perhaps knowing that he had nothing to lose, showed no sign of nerves, and played some classy strokes square on the off side when not defending solidly. The two added 65 in 98 balls. But this was building the stable after the horses had died. India had slipped too far to be redeemed, and the partnership was duly broken when Sehwag, on 58, tried an inside-out lofted drive off Shane Warne, and mis-hit it to Michael Clarke at cover (6 for 102). Patel, who had made a fiesty 32, edged Gillespie to Gilchrist 12 runs later.
Strokeful cameos followed from Murali Kartik, Ajit Agarkar and Zaheer Khan, but they were innings played under no pressure, with the match already decided. There was reason for India to wonder, though, at the 163 runs their last five wickets added, after the first five added 37. It was a gulf that reflected the state of India's batting in the series, where the last five had added more then 100 in three of the last four innings, but the specialist batsmen had repeatedly let them down.
The most memorable partnership of the day was not the futile one between Sehwag and Patel, or the sloggacious 52-run stand between Agarkar and Zaheer, but the scintillating one between Clarke and Martyn in the morning session. Australia accelerated furiously and Clarke led the way, unleashing strokes that few batsmen would even conceive. His driving on the back foot was breathtaking, and some of his shots were hit so hard, with such bat-speed, that field placings were virtually redundant.
Clarke was out for 73 when he misread the pace of a ball from Kumble and pulled it to Kaif at short midwicket (4 for 319). Martyn, meanwhile, started playing scratchily as he approached what would have been his third consecutive century. He was dropped on 85 by Sehwag at point, who failed to hold on to an uppish cut. He played and missed a couple of times, and was eventually caught behind off Zaheer for 97 a few minutes before lunch, the third Australian to be dismissed in the 90s in this Test (5 for 329 dec).
But personal milestones missed would not have mattered today. Australia achieved a collective goal that they have dreamed of, and worked towards, for the last three years. They had already charmed India with their behaviour through this tour - much walking and no sledging - and now they had won the series as well. They would cherish their hard-earned and emphatic victory here, just as cricket lovers would always remember, with a glint of nostalgia, the magnificent manner in which Australia lit up an Indian autumn.