One of Australia's strengths during the McGrath-Warne years was the bowlers' ability to maintain their line in most conditions. There were occasional costly lapses, like Kolkata in 2001 and Antigua in 2003, but they were the errors that made a dominating team human. The rest of the time they did the simple request that coaches repeat as often as Sufi musicians bang on a dhol. "Bowl to your field, bowl to your field."

Australia arrived in India with none of their fast bowlers having played a Test in the country, but they were sure it would not be a problem. It has been worse than that. The lack of impact is on the verge of becoming a series-losing issue.

Most worryingly, they are not sure where to bowl. It's not about lack of effort, but application and direction. Each time a player talks about how to operate on these surfaces he mentions "patience" so often it wears the patience of those listening. Yet on the field everything is happening in fast forward - and not just the speed of the ball heading to the boundary or the fielders in the deep. Dot balls have been forgotten and they seem to be looking for a wicket every delivery. Peter Siddle is the only rookie, but as a group they are copying the rawness.

The team analysts and coaches have devised clever settings using a range of short and deep fielders. In Bangalore the suffocation worked, as it had in the series win in 2004, due to tight bowling. During this game it has been the kind of operation expected of Test minnows, not those at the top of the table. No amount of manoeuvring by the captain or the coach can cover consistent mis-direction.

India's batsmen are amazing in their own conditions, but the Australians are refusing to learn. In Bangalore the lower order was allowed to escape and it happened again in Mohali. On Friday the new-ball spells of Brett Lee and Siddle allowed India to speed to 70 in 14 overs. Michael Slater used to do that to England and Australians laughed at how badly they bowled. The pattern continued in the second innings on Sunday, and again on Monday.

After giving away 100 in 23 overs on the third afternoon, they allowed India 55 runs in the first ten of the next morning. The rate for the day was five an over. In a Test. An hour after the mistakes of the third day, Watson had talked of a team meeting where the players discussed how they would rein in the batsmen. Free rein was given instead.

The bowling coach Troy Cooley is travelling with the team, but his magic either hasn't worked in India or has worn off. Cooley was part of England's sweet success in 2005, when the fast men curled the ball at will and exposed Australia's weakness against movement. This time Australia is behind on the trickery again.

They are desperately trying to achieve reverse-swing early in the innings - the Indians manage it within 15 overs - and have watched closely how their opponents deliver seam-up for about eight overs and then across the seam to deteriorate its condition. Watson also spoke about getting one side of the ball really rough while keeping the other shiny. This is reverse-swing at its most elementary level. The Indians must be laughing.

SG balls are used in India, not the Kookaburra brand preferred in Australia, and they have a more prominent seam and soften quickly. The Australians have been practising with them for a long time - although it's impossible to match the experience of the locals - but can't get much off the pitch or in the air. When Australia bat it's tempting to think the bone-coloured surface has turned green. It hasn't.

Four years ago when Australia's bowlers nullified the home batsmen and won the unwinnable series, they focused on a direct line at the stumps. Michael Kasprowicz and Jason Gillespie altered their games, slowing down a touch to focus on a consistent line, and Glenn McGrath also readjusted slightly. All were experienced bowlers who had tested themselves in a variety of conditions. All had an economy rate of less than three runs an over in India and collected between 19 and 33 wickets.

Lee, who is giving up 3.16 an over, has been the biggest problem. He is not as tall as his former team-mates and the lack of bounce has taken away one of his weapons. In different spells he has varied his pace, but apart from a strong comeback after a horrible opening on the first day, he has been made to look like a medium-pacer. In the year leading up to this series he was the best bowler in the game.

Mitchell Johnson has performed extremely well in India until the second innings in Mohali, where he rejoined the pack. Siddle is young, raw and bowling as expected while Shane Watson, Michael Clarke and Cameron White are doing the same. It would be easy to say they are missing Stuart Clark, who has a sore right elbow, but he was below-par in Bangalore.

India's batsmen have been able to cut, pull, drive - pretty much everything except use regular defence. It is not the way the Australians came to play, but at the moment they don't seem capable of doing anything about it. India are on track for a 1-0 lead and will have few problems in shutting down the series when it resumes in Delhi on October 29. Australia have forgotten about containment and it has cost them.