Australia's cracks finally exposed

The end of the era came quickly. An Australian unit that seemed unbreakable over the past 24 months had actually been admirably masking the dints

It took four days for India to bring Australia's 16-match winning run to an end and Ricky Ponting is left with a truer perspective of the future © Getty Images
The end of the era came quickly. An Australian unit that seemed unbreakable over the past 24 months had actually been admirably masking the dints. During the past four days they could not survive any more collisions and Ricky Ponting's stunning tower has toppled.
Through 16 wins there were many one-sided successes, but the handful of near-death experiences had stolen the energy for a world-record miracle. Australia have lost their first Test since August 2005 and India retain the tag as the great spoiler of baggy green parties. India's victory is a fillip for the global game, proving that the world champions can be beaten, and forcing the hosts into further self-analysis.
There will be disappointment from Australia and their supporters, especially when Perth was the most bankable venue for victory, but the team must be praised for extending the streak for so long. Three months ago they re-started a Test campaign without Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer, a scenario that would have floored anybody else, yet Ponting held his side together until the tape could no longer handle the strain.
Matthew Hayden was missing his first match since 1999, leaving two inexperienced openers for Perth, Ponting was unable to patch himself up after his failed duels with Harbhajan Singh and a new bowling group seriously missed the influence of McGrath and Warne. Events that were supposed to happen in November were delayed until January and now the world is seeing the new Australia.
Like sharemarkets around the world, nobody knows how far they will dive, but the days of regular high dividends are gone. This record, a mark proving team substance over individual effort, must be cherished. After the Ashes defeat Ponting was able to look around his field of dream players and call for greater input. This time he has a handful of stars hovering above a core still waiting to know its worth.
Perth will be the venue where they realised Test success is not an Australian birthright. The WACA is meant to shock visiting teams, but the home players are the ones who cannot believe what has happened. The pitch didn't bounce, Shaun Tait whimpered and the batsmen were shut down by an under-manned India attack.
On the final day Ishant Sharma, a 19-year-old novice, operated like a world beater, working over Ponting in a way only Andrew Flintoff has managed since he became Australia's second best batsman. From the moment Ishant arced the ball wickedly into Ponting there was nowhere for Australia to turn.
The corner became tighter with a couple of umpiring errors against Michael Hussey and Andrew Symonds and the parallels to the Sydney Test were confirmed when Virender Sehwag picked up two wickets with his part-time spin. It was Australia's turn to experience misfortune.
Decisions are more likely to go bad for the struggling team, which is something Australia's opponents have complained about for years. At least there won't be calls for an umpire to be stood down for the final match of a gripping series in Adelaide next week, and the only boycott will remain an English commentator.
Australians believe official decisions even out over time. In Sydney it seemed an unfair pronouncement, but it has taken only four playing days for the theory to be proved. Hussey left immediately - only a sharp head turn and the briskness of his walk showed annoyance - while Symonds hung his bat out briefly after being ruled lbw to a ball he hit.
They were happy to accept the bonuses at the SCG and when the swings went against them here they were absorbed despite the impending loss. Australia have played in a manner that their supporters can be proud of, even in defeat.
Long lines of spectators waited to enter the outer in the morning and the competition India have provided has lifted interest in combination with the fall-out from Sydney. They came to see Australia survive and hoped for better. Most stayed to watch them lose, were entertained by the late charge of Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark, and applauded at the conclusion when the players merged for well-meaning handshakes. Ponting's men continued to be dignified in a defeat that ended their all-conquering rule.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo