Only eight days ago, a target of 216 required a superhuman effort from a hobbling VVS Laxman, partnered by an unlikely batting companion Ishant Sharma.
Every run was fought for as though it was a matter of life and death, each leg-bye and overthrow cherished as though disaster could strike at any moment. On Wednesday, 207 was made to appear like a stroll in the park as India cantered, no romped, to a seven-wicket win that gave them their first series clean sweep against Australia.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni summoned his old friend, reverse swing, to do the job first up, and Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth mopped up the last three Australia wickets with little wastage of time or leakage of runs. All out for 223, Australia left India with a chase that threatened to ask some tricky questions.
Virender Sehwag was thought to be crucial at the top of the order as quick runs from him could rush India towards the target, calming nerves in the dressing room and spreading the field at one go. But what resulted was an unconvincing opening of the bat face to run the ball to third man, resulting in a simple catch for wicketkeeper Tim Paine.
Ben Hilfenhaus, the workhorse, who has constantly kept Australia in the hunt this series, got rewarded for a characteristically probing spell, and India were 17 for 1. Even as the healthy crowd cleared their throats to welcome home boy, Rahul Dravid, at No. 3, a kid touted to be his replacement walked out, taking even the Australians by surprise. Dhoni, assessing the risk of bunching the experience of Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar together at No. 3 and No. 4, gave Cheteshwar Pujara a platform from which to express himself.
Even as M Vijay continued from where he left off in the first innings, Pujara began by crunching Mitchell Johnson through extra cover.
If he felt the pressure of standing in for Laxman, or the nerves of playing in his first Test match, Pujara did not let it show. Striking the ball cleanly on both sides of the wicket, and even showing the confidence to take on the short ball with the controlled pull shot, Pujara gave the chase a momentum that was conspicuously absent in the first Test at Mohali.
Vijay and Pujara added 72 for the second wicket, consuming only 78 balls in the process, and Ricky Ponting was left scratching his head as different strategies were tried and condemned to failure. It was Shane Watson’s relatively gentle medium-pace that got the breakthrough when he got a ball to straighten and beat Vijay’s bat, winning the lbw decision from umpire Billy Bowden.
At 89 for 2 came the second juncture where India might have stuttered, but Tendulkar was in no mood to leave anything to chance. Keeping out the fast bowlers and attacking the ineffective Nathan Hauritz mercilessly, Tendulkar sealed his Man-of-the-Match award with an unbeaten half-century. Even when Pujara departed for an eye-catching 72, India did not deviate from the true road to victory.