A day which started with the dream of victory played out like a nightmare, as a feisty last-wicket stand and a horror chase consigned India to their fifth straight away loss by 122 runs at the MCG on Thursday.
Starting at 179/8, Australia lost Mike Hussey in the seventh over before James Pattinson and Ben Hilfenhaus stitched a 43-run last-wicket partnership to set India an imposing target of 292. Pattinson then starred with the ball, taking 4/43, as India capitulated in testing conditions for a meek 169.
Hussey started tentatively and added 10 to his overnight 79 before a brute of a delivery from Zaheer Khan ended his innings. Zaheer had a chance to set India up for a slightly less demanding total, but failed to hold a Pattinson hook off Umesh Yadav, when he was on 15. The 21-year-old made the Indians pay as a mixture of defensive batting and some fluent cover drives saw him guide the hosts to 240/9 before Ishant Sharma dismissed Hilfenhaus.
The chase was always going to be an uphill task, considering the recent barren run which has seen the famed batting lineup not cross the 300-run mark in the last 10 away innings.
If India were to make a match of it, Virender Sehwag was the key, however, after a narrow reprieve in the third over, he perished to a loose shot, smashing a widish Hilfenhaus delivery to Hussey at gully moments before lunch. Gautam Gambhir joined him in the pavilion moments after the interval. The southpaw edged a probing Peter Siddle delivery to Ricky Ponting at second slip.
Sachin Tendulkar came in to a thunderous reception, and confidently drove the first ball he faced for three runs. Together with Rahul Dravid, the onus had now shifted on the two highest run-getters in the history of Test cricket. The resistance was broken by Pattinson, who bowled a late in-swinging delivery that went in the gap between bat and pad and crashed into Dravid’s stumps. Pattinson got into the act again to get rid of VVS Laxman (1 off 14 balls).
Virat Kohli fared no better and fell three balls later to Hilfenhaus for a golden duck.
Skipper MS Dhoni joined Tendulkar, who was again in splendid touch. After a watchful first few balls, Dhoni attempted to shift gears, smashing Hilfenhaus for a six over mid-wicket and tried to slog him the next ball as well. An over later, India's hopes went up in smoke as Tendulkar perished to a wide Siddle delivery. Going for a drive, he only managed to thick-edge it to Hussey at gully.
R Ashwin’s counter-attacking ways, which saw him hit a 35-ball 30, came to an end when a short delivery from Siddle forced him to glove one while fending the ball. The catch looped up to Ed Cowan at short-leg, who collected it with ease.
Pattinson then got rid of Zaheer and Dhoni off back-to-back overs to put Australia on the brink of victory. Umesh Yadav struck some meaty blows off Nathan Lyon, but the off-spinner made amends as Umesh holed out at the boundary to David Warner.