Kuldeep Yadav's left-arm wristspin gave this series yet another unexpected twist, trumping the far more consistent theme of the Australian captain Steven Smith's batting excellence, as India enjoyed the better of the first day of the decisive fourth Test in Dharamsala.
Having reached lunch at a domineering 131 for 1, Australia gave up their last nine wickets for a mere 169, all on a surface that showed itself to be by a distance the most evenly paced of the series. That they did so was down largely to Kuldeep, who was given a key role immediately upon the afternoon's resumption by the stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane and responded with a delectable spell that turned the direction of the day.
Though Smith motored to his third century of the series - one of only six visiting batsmen to score that many in India - he was left without significant top-order support, and of the rest only Matthew Wade was able to endure for any protracted period. A good indicator of the different nature of play in Dharamsala was that the innings went by without a single recourse to the DRS, in sharp contrast to earlier matches. The new ball in Australian hands looms large as a key to the match.
An irony of Kuldeep's display was that he had come into the side in place of Virat Kohli, who was reduced to drinks duties after concluding that his strained right shoulder was not going to be 100% fit for this match, the last of the Test season. Turning the ball sharply both ways while maintaining an immaculate length and line, Kuldeep recalled the problems created for Australia by another left-arm wristspinner in Sri Lanka last year - Lakshan Sandakan.
The Dharamsala pitch offered pace and bounce for both fast men and spinners to exploit, and it was the fresher fingers of Kuldeep that were best able to take full advantage rather than either Ravindra Jadeja or R Ashwin. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who replaced Ishant Sharma, and Umesh Yadav had both found new-ball movement before Smith took control of proceedings with some help from David Warner.
After Rahane lost the toss, Bhuvneshwar's first ball of the match swerved away from Warner at drivable length. Warner chased it and edged, but the chance was grassed when Karun Nair could get only one hand to it. That incident was a necessary stroke of luck Warner needed after a largely barren series, and after Matt Renshaw was beaten and bowled by a Umesh delivery that straightened down the line, he and Smith were quickly into stride by using the extra pace and bounce offered up by Dharamsala's hard pitch and thinner atmosphere.
Steven Smith: highest average for a captain v India
Smith wasted little time to get moving, capitalising on any errors in line or length and at one point miscuing a hook at Umesh, so eager was he to get after the bowling. On another day the ball might have plopped into the gloves of Wriddhiman Saha, but here it fell safely.
Warner was a little more sluggish after that early chance, covering up in defence to ensure he did not miss any of Bhuvneshwar's inswingers, and on one occasion cuffing a boundary over the slips when trying to avoid a short ball. The arrival of spin helped Warner build momentum, as the Dharamsala surface offered the odd bit of spin but otherwise played in a friendly fashion in the morning session.
Kuldeep was called upon for a pair of overs before the lunch interval, but he too was struck for boundaries as Smith and Warner set a highly promising platform for the tourists.
Rahane and his bowlers reset their plans during the interval, focusing on greater economy while encouraging Kuldeep to maintain a full length and test Australia's batsmen on the drive. Warner seemed preoccupied with trying to cut or force off the back foot, and in trying to do so from a delivery well pitched up, he succeeded only in edging to slip.
Shaun Marsh, so stubborn in the second innings in Ranchi, flicked limply at an Umesh delivery and was taken down the leg side cheaply, before Peter Handscomb was out to a lovely piece of bowling from Kuldeep. The ball was tossed up and slower, drifting enough to drag Handscomb's bat away from his pad and then breaking back through the gap to splay the stumps.
Glenn Maxwell thought himself capable of muscling Kuldeep out of the attack and managed one lofted boundary, but he too was unable to be sure of which way the ball was turning. Two balls after reaching the rope, he went back to what he thought was a stock ball and instead found himself beaten and bowled by a googly.
Smith's earlier rapid scoring had slowed, and it was a subdued celebration on reaching three figures. He seemed likely to shepherd Matthew Wade to the tea break, but with five minutes to go edged an Ashwin drifter to slip, the ball after Wade had sneaked a bye from a ball that turned expansively.
Pat Cummins, Steve O'Keefe and Nathan Lyon all offered momentary support to Wade, who played sensibly to ensure the visitors at least reached the 300 mark. But Kuldeep's return to the attack accounted for Cummins, before O'Keefe was run-out by the substitute fielder Shreyas Iyer, who many had expected to be playing in place of Kohli. Needing to win the match to claim the series, India's selectors had instead gambled on the extra bowler - Kuldeep's wiles offered the richest of rewards.