If it was prolonged wicketless spells in Johannesburg and Wellington, India are left ruing two short periods of play where their batsmen couldn't arrest a collapse in Adelaide and Brisbane. When most Indian teams would have batted for a draw, given the target of 364 on the final day in Adelaide, India went for the win and at one point needed 122 with eight wickets in hand and plenty of time to go. They were bowled out for 315. In Brisbane, they had done well after falling behind in the first innings, and were close to wiping out the deficit with just one wicket down when another collapse kicked in. Overnight batsman Shikhar Dhawan got injured in the nets, four other wickets fell for 11, and all the spirited work after that couldn't prevent the defeat.
Captain MS Dhoni spoke about those "20 minutes" in each match, and said that the team needed more experience to deal with such situations. "Till the time youngsters play matches and gain experience… there is no substitute to that," Dhoni said. "Unless they play more matches they cannot have it. If you see here in first and second Tests, in both matches there have been intervals of 20 minutes where we have not batted well and it impacted the result a lot. To a certain extent we have to manage that and it will help us. The more we play overseas, more will be the experience.
"We cannot get experienced players from anywhere. The attitude from all players has been very good. Whatever two matches are left, it is important that we go into those matches with the same attitude. Whatever the result, we shouldn't focus on that but focus on process instead. That would be better."
The Indian team had made its displeasure with the practice pitches at the Gabba public on Saturday. They believe the pitches were not good enough, that the groundstaff ignored their requests, and that led to injuries to Dhawan and Virat Kohli, but Dhoni said the team should have handled the situation better. "I felt the first session [when India collapsed] was very crucial, and I don't think we handled it really well," Dhoni said. "That was one of the main reasons [for the defeat] because if we had a decent partnership going and got a few more runs, we all knew the wicket was misbehaving to an extent, and if the game would have gone to the fifth day it would have been a bit up and down. We could have exploited the conditions a bit more."
Dhoni said there was no magic solution to handle these collapses. "Yes we have had batting collapses in the past, in the recent Test series we have played," Dhoni said. "This [Gabbe collapse] was something very different. This will be addressed in a different way. Generally how you address a situation is you try to tell them to bat as normally as possible. To not really look at the scoreboard as to what really has happened. You play according to the merit of the delivery. If it is there to be hit, you hit. You look to score and be positive. That's how it is supposed to be."
This Test, though, had more than a collapse. India had batted well to score 408 in the first innings, had Australia down at 6 for 247, but came unstuck against a sensational Mitchell Johnson assault with the bat. A point of contention was India's trying to bounce Johnson, and his pulling India out of the match. Dhoni stood by the plan to bowl short.
"I felt at that point with Mitchell coming, and he is someone who can bat, it was important to use a few bouncers and we have got a few wickets by bouncers," Dhoni said. "Not to forget we have bowlers now who can exploit the conditions. All the three bowlers can bowl at decent pace. Ishant is slower of the three, but he is someone who gets steep bounce compared to other two bowlers.
"And also if you see, Mitchell played quite a few shots and there were a lot of catches that were 15 feet short of fielders or 15 feet away. And in cricket it counts because with the number of fielders you have, you can't place them all everywhere. It didn't really go our way, he kept playing those shots, kept clearing fielders by some margin and we kept changing our plans. It's not like we will only bowl short, we tried almost all the plans. If you have watched the game, he scored 80-odd runs and he spent a quite a fair amount of time there. We tried each and every plan, and at the end of all it what worked was the new ball. We couldn't have taken it after the 60th over."
Dhoni said he was proud of the way the team kept on competing, and made Australia work for every wicket and every run after that initial collapse on the fourth morning. "With only 125-130 runs at times you throw in the towel," Dhoni said. "But what was important that until the last runs were scored you fight it out with the opposition, and then you accept the result. It was good to see the fast bowlers running in and giving their 100%, and it was good that we got a few wickets. Actually it gives a lot of learning to the youngsters that another 50-60 runs, another couple of partnerships, and those runs can really matter."
India's last tour to Australia was winless. There is a good chance this might end similarly, but Dhoni said India are moving closer to correcting that statistic. "There are plenty of positives because we have been able to take plenty of wickets, which I think is important to win Test matches," Dhoni said. "Overall you see there have been plenty of areas which we can say that a lot of improvement has been made, but we are not crossing the line. That crossing the line is more like a wine that is brewing. Once they start crossing the line and start harnessing the aggression in right channels, you will see plenty of good results from this side.
"The exciting part is that we have competed. The last time we were here we were not really able to compete. That is something very crucial because when you are competing and it is going to the last hour and last day and last moment, it can turn [our way] at any moment in time. One good spell or a run-out or a couple of catches... It all boils down to that. A little bit of luck really matters in cricket. It is exciting to see the youngsters put in a fight. With a bit more experience to both bowlers and batsmen, it will turn out to be a very good side."